LEXINGTON, Ky. – Samford coach Ben Seltzer says he was only trying to motivate his team when he was overheard telling the Bulldogs “this is the worst Kentucky team I’ve ever seen” during the first half of Tuesday’s game at Rupp Arena.
When the final horn sounded on the Wildcats’ 88-56 victory, UK coach John Calipari did not exactly go out of his way to dispel that notion.
“Oh, I haven't seen all the Kentucky teams, but I can't imagine there weren't a few that were worse than us,” Calipari joked during one of the rare moments of levity in his postgame press conference.
Suddenly-unranked Kentucky (5-3) avoided its first three-game losing streak in four seasons under Calipari, but did not leave him with a good taste in his mouth after a ragged second half which saw the Wildcats edge the outmatched Southern Conference opponent by the narrowest of margins, 43-42. They dominated the first half 45-14.
Many of the old, familiar bad habits that have dogged the defending national champions early in the season – failure to secure rebounds and loose balls, lack of communication and rotation on the defensive end of the floor – showed up once again in the second half, prompting Calipari to warn his players that a tougher practice regimen is coming.
“Camp Cal,” he called it with a devilish grin.
“We're going to condition (at 7) in the morning for the next three weeks and then practice because I can't think of any other reason why you wouldn't come out in the second half and play,” Calipari said. “I just don't understand that, especially what we've been going through.
“(They) need to learn how to play a full game. They had that opportunity today, so we have to chalk it up to they're not in shape. (But) they will be. We're going to be the most in-shape team inside the next three weeks. We're going to condition in the morning, we're going to practice in the afternoon.”
Freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein, who had the Wildcats’ first double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, said he wasn’t sure what to make of Calipari’s postgame comments.
“He’s the coach. If he doesn’t think we are in shape, I guess we aren’t in shape,” Cauley-Stein said before adding that he thinks it has more to do with motivation and breaking the team of trying to be “too cool” on the court.
“It’s all mental. He is trying to get us more mental toughness. There is no way we can’t be in shape. Going through the offseason and even how practices are now, there is no way we are not in shape. It’s all mental.”
Cauley-Stein was one of several UK players to delete their Twitter social network accounts earlier in the week coming off a 64-55 loss to Baylor that snapped Kentucky’s 55-game home winning streak, the longest in the nation to that point. He cited negativity from some Wildcat fans as the reason for his decision.
When informed of the “worst Kentucky team I’ve ever seen” comment from the Samford head coach, Cauley-Stein shrugged his shoulders. “That’s what we’ve been hearing (from UK fans) the last three weeks.”
So in what may have been the most widely-panned 32-point victory in its illustrious history, Kentucky did little to answer the burning questions that led to the Wildcats dropping out of the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since Calipari arrived in Lexington four years ago. The Cats’ drop from No. 8 to unranked marked the biggest free-fall in the history of the poll since it expanded to 25 teams in 1990.
That UK shot 56 percent from the field, dished out 23 assists on 34 field goals and placed six players in double figures (Archie Goodwin 18, Alex Poythress 16, Nerlens Noel 13, Cauley-Stein 12, Julius Mays 10 and Kyle Wiltjer 10) seemed to matter little to anyone at the end of the night. Neither did a 41-25 rebounding advantage, 11 steals and 10 blocked shots.
“Obviously they don't get it yet,” Calipari said, “but they will. We’ll get (strength coach) Ray Oliver, 20 to 30 minutes of straight running. Not heart rates at 120. Your heart rate is going to be at 175, 180.
“Strap ‘em on, boys.”
For his part, Cauley-Stein says the extra conditioning won’t be an issue. “We’re basketball players. We’re used to running. Getting up at 7 will be the worst part.”
• Kentucky leads the series 2-0, both games in Lexington. The Wildcats are 20-0 now all-time against teams from the current alignment of the Southern Conference.
• Freshman forward Alex Poythress is shooting 68.5 percent this season. Michael Bradley (1998-99) holds the UK season record at 65.7 percent.
• Junior guard Jarrod Polson set career highs in assists (4) and steals (2).
• Freshman guard Archie Goodwin has recorded at least four assists in five straight games.
• Junior swingman Jon Hood had two 3-pointers late in the game, the first time in his UK career he has hit multiple treys in a game.