It’s unclear if badges are handed out at Camp Cal, but if they were then Kentucky players would all be sporting the most coveted prize of all – the one showing coach John Calipari’s smiling face.
“Let me say this. I'm pleased,” Calipari said after UK’s 82-54 rout of Marshall on Saturday. “We got better. A couple guys had lapses, and those lapses will kill us in our league. But the reality of it is we got way better.”
Praise had been rare from Calipari in recent weeks. Three early losses sent Kentucky in the semester break – aka Camp Cal – with much work to do. But despite no 20-hour rule limiting practice, the Cats had been slow to make strides. That changed Saturday with a strong win over the Thundering Herd.
“We're a long way from home,” Calipari cautioned. “But I keep saying this team has more upside than any team in the country. We're going to have games where we don't shoot it well. Doesn't matter. If you defend, you're tough, you're rough, create shots for each other, you're going to be fine.”
Kentucky shot only 42 percent but still won by 28 points. The Cats outrebounded Marshall 48-43, with 10 by Nerlens Noel and nine from Alex Poythress. UK also forced 17 turnovers, 10 by steals. Ryan Harrow had three picks.
”They all made strides,” Calipari said. “It's not going to be perfect right now. You see we're stronger because we're eating better now. We're training. We're lifting weights. We're together all the time. Did you see some emotion out there? Wasn't it great when Nerlens stole the ball, they all huddled? You're like, ‘Geez, I haven't seen that all year.’
“We're starting to get into each other now versus ourselves,” Calipari said. “That’s nice to see.”
Kentucky’s abrupt improvement meant a spoiled holiday for Marshall, which was within two points early in the second half before Kentucky erupted on a 26-5 run.
“They have great players and a terrific coach,” Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. “They matched our physicality and we are a physical club. I’d like to think that our team can physically play against a lot of teams in the country. I am not saying we are that good, don’t get me wrong, but we like to try to lay the wood on people and I thought they responded pretty well.”
Needless to say, Marshall had never seen the UK squad that showed up Saturday.
“I have obviously watched a boatload of their tape. I’ve probably watched their last six games,” Herrion said. “I thought they were much more active and kind of like how I like. Bodies were flying today. Body on body for both teams.
“I think some games they might have bounced off some guys and not responded and tonight I thought they played at a physical level, which is going to be helpful to them as they move on in their season.”
Herrion likes what he sees in Kentucky but warns for patience.
“They have great opponents coming up in non-conference and in the SEC. They are going to get better and better,” Herrion said. “But you can’t flip the roster every year and expect the magic wand to happen from game one to game 39-40. It’s going to take some time.
“Sometimes give respect to the teams they have played,” Herrion added. “Baylor won by almost 20 against BYU. Notre Dame is pretty good. It is not always how your team is struggling or bad. Maybe some other teams played well.
“Sometimes it’s like the end of the world coming if you guys don’t win or you play poorly,” Herrion said. “Sometimes it’s about what is good about some of the teams you are playing.”