Humbled UK men must play as a unit
Posted: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 5:06 pm
By: By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari warned his players this season wouldn’t be like last year, that this group of Wildcats would be tested early and the odds of winning their first 19 games as they did last winter were slim.
It took one solid punch in the mouth from Connecticut to prove him right.
Kentucky was humbled by the surging Huskies in the finals of the Maui Invitational, losing 84-67 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final would indicate.
UConn pounced on the Wildcats early, exposing Kentucky’s lack of inside depth once freshman Terrence Jones went to the bench with foul trouble and harassing the youthful Wildcats into a series of miscues to thwart any hope of a comeback.
Calipari called his team “selfish” in the aftermath. Given a few days to think about it, his players didn’t exactly disagree.
“Everybody was trying to get their own,” said guard DeAndre Liggins. “We’ve just got to learn to talk more and play with each other more.”
Liggins acknowledged the Wildcats were tired playing their third game in three days. They certainly looked like it when the Huskies zoomed to a 21-point halftime lead. Kentucky’s interior defense collapsed when Jones trudged to the bench after picking up his second foul with nine minutes to play in the half.
The Wildcats only trailed by seven when Jones walked off the floor. By the time he returned, they were buried. Senior center Josh Harrellson blamed the breakdown on a lack of communication.
“We gave a lot of easy baskets up without anybody helping each other out, but we also didn’t find each other on offense,” Harrellson said. “When everybody was open, we’d try to fight through three guys.”
Kentucky shot just 36 percent and had only nine assists on 22 field goals against the Huskies. It’s not exactly the kind of ball movement Calipari is looking for, even in the dribble-drive offense, which is designed for players to break down their man one-on-one.
The bigger problem, at least for now, was the lack of resolve the Wildcats showed. They never got closer than 13 in the second half. Facing adversity for the first time, Kentucky looked a step slow.
Harrellson called it a byproduct of a young team trying to find itself. Five of the nine players who saw action against the Huskies are in their first year with the program.
“We just didn’t know how to handle it out there,” Harrellson said. “I guess we didn’t have the leadership we needed. We didn’t have the go-to guys last year that when something broke down they could get us back on track. We’re just going to learn from it and develop as teammates.”
Kentucky won’t have to wait that long to see if it has matured. The 10th-ranked Wildcats (4-1) host Boston tonight before traveling to North Carolina on Saturday.
Calipari is expected to be on the sidelines against the Terriers. His mother, Donna, passed away on Sunday following a long battle with cancer. He’s the second member of the program to lose a parent this season. Junior center Eloy Vargas lost his father in the Dominican Republic earlier this month.