Calipari wants to guard against arrogance
LEXINGTON (KT) — Kentucky has regained its swagger, but John Calipari doesn’t want his team to become complacent following an 83-76 win at West Virginia that propelled the Wildcats back into the rankings.
“You can’t be arrogant about this,” Calipari said Monday, ahead of his team’s Southeastern Conference encounter against Vanderbilt set for Tuesday.
The Wildcats (16-5, 5-3 SEC) rallied from a 17-point deficit against the Mountaineers in one of Kentucky’s top performances of the season Saturday and moved back into the Associated Press Top 25 after dropping out of the poll for the first time in 68 weeks following back-to-back losses to South Carolina and Florida. Since then, Kentucky has won its past two contests, including the impressive comeback at West Virginia.
“(Our) guys fought,” Calipari said. “(They) played with unbelievable spirit in the second half and beat a really good team on the road. Now you’ve got to build on it. So you talk about it, but we don’t know until the game is – you throw the ball up and we see if they understand that’s how you have to attempt to play every game. That kind of fight.”
The fight was initiated by Kevin Knox, who poured in a career-high 34 points, which helped earn him SEC Freshman of the Week honors Monday. The play by Knox, combined by the double-digit comeback, provided an uplifting presence for the Wildcats.
“It boosted our morale a lot, especially when we saw Kevin play the way he was playing,” Kentucky forward Sacha Killeya-Jones said. “Just seeing his confidence, the way he was playing and all of us collectively. We went on that big run defensively and we were scoring a lot in the same time. As a team, it just shows that we’re young but we can still get it done together.”
Calipari said the spirited effort, especially in the round half is what he’s been looking for from his team this season.
“It’s hard to smile when the other team’s the aggressor and you’re not getting after it,” he said. “Smiling is, ‘Let’s go, I got this.’ Not like, ‘I’m cool,’ and then you step in the ring, you get bested three times. They want to have fun, you do it together, do it for each other and you play your heart out. You will have a ball. You ready? That’s really hard though.”
Although the rally against the Mountaineers was indeed impressive, Kentucky has already forgotten about the “Morgantown Miracle” and focused on the Commodores, who defeated Texas Christian 81-78 in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
“That win’s in the past now,” Kentucky forward Wenyen Gabriel said. “We ‘gotta focus on ourselves and getting better. Every day we gotta approach how we’re going to get better today. We’re going in the gym and we gotta focus today. Probably got a hard practice and we have another big game against Vanderbilt. They gave us a game last time. We gotta win this game.”
Despite edging the Horned Frogs, Vandy (8-13, 2-6) has struggled against conference foes and has lost five of its past six league contests. Kentucky beat the Commodores 74-67 on Jan. 13 in Nashville.
“I watched tape and they’re playing good.,” Calipari said. “I just watched (tape on) Tennessee, they were down 20 and should’ve won the game. Like, I had to watch it twice, like, ‘How did they do this?’ They were down 20, and I’m talking like in 20 minutes, they got it to a two-point-game. And then they had the ball. And then the TCU game from tip to the finish they just, TCU couldn’t guard them. And TCU, ready for this, shot 60 percent, outrebounded them by 10 and lost the game.”
Calipari hopes the Wildcats have turned the proverbial corner and said his team’s struggles were similar of the ones his 2013-14 squad experience before making a late run and lost to Connecticut in the NCAA championship game in Dallas.
“Their thoughts (have not been) on what this team needs and talking,” Calipari said. “They are trying to establish themselves as a player. When they get by that and stop worrying about establishing yourself, play the way you have to play for us to win, you’re going to help yourself and help your team. It starts coming together. Some teams it takes longer. “
PJ Washington, who played just one minute of the second half against the Mountaineers because of a knee issue, is expected to play against the Commodores.
“I think he’ll be fine. It was a knee or something that was slowing him down,” Calipari said. “We just couldn’t have anybody play 80 or 90 percent. You can’t. Either you’re bringing it or we’ve gotta go without you. The good news now is with a full roster we can do that. It was hard when you were playing six and seven guys and two were in foul trouble and you’ve got five guys. That made it tough.”