John Calipari loves to point out Kentucky basketball fans not only want to win every game but want to do so in grand fashion, bludgeoning opponents long after their fight has been exhausted. During his first three seasons as coach he's mostly delivered squads who have thrived on doing just that.
John Calipari has appeared frustrated at Kentucky's inconsistent play this season
Not this year.
Kentucky pulled away late to defeat Tennessee 75-65 in Rupp Arena but it was hardly the type of convincing victory that will ease the growing unrest about the 2012-13 team's fortunes. In the Cats' eight games against major conference competition they remain just 3-5 and have struggled to maintain a consistent level of focus and intensity for 40 minutes in any of those outings.
Such is life this season, as Calipari claims to have finally come to terms with it after the latest performance that at times made him look like he would tear his graying hair out.
“I came to this conclusion – in the last seven, eight years I have coached teams that have absolutely whomped on people,” Calipari said. “And this ain't one of them.
“Every game we are going to be in is going to be a dogfight. Instead of going crazy about it, how about just accept it, right, and coach that way?”
The Cats did little to disprove their coach's theory against the offensively-challenged Volunteers. Every time they threatened to run away and hide from the team in monochromatic orange uniforms they immediately found a way to stunt their own momentum. Cases in point? An 8-0 first half run gave the Cats a 25-19 lead, which was quickly turned into a 29-28 deficit. An 8-0 early second half run put UK ahead 45-37, which was immediately became a 47-47 tie. Even when the Cats finally appeared to have closed the Vols out by taking a 71-65 lead, senior Julius Mays was whistled for a flagrant elbow that gave Tennessee two free throws and the basketball with 42.7 seconds remaining.
And now you understand why Calipari at times seems beyond exasperated with this squad.
“I can't imagine this team being up 20 on anybody because you get up 12, 15 and someone will try to steal the ball, they will foul, they will leave their feet. On an out of bounds play one guy will not do what he's supposed to do, give up two lay-ups. We are blocking ever shot so why would you grab the arms when they drive in there? We are not trying to steal balls on drives, give ground. We just kept fouling, fouling, fouling.”
So why can't a roster littered with future NBA players go all Whac-a-Mole on opponents? Even they aren't quite sure at this point.
“I think sometimes we just kill ourselves out there,” freshman forward Alex Poythress said. “We make our own mistakes. We're not tight, we turn the ball over, we just don't know how to demolish a team. We'll be up 10 or 12 and just let a team come back. It's something we've got to learn how to do.”
Much like everything else this season, that learning curve has been steeper than anyone could have imagined.
“I love this team,” Calipari said. “We have so much upside.
“I got upset a few times and I told them after, the last eight years winning 35 games, beating people by 30, this team is not capable of doing that,” he added. “We are still learning to sustain effort and to trust each other, then you can start becoming the team we want to be. Until then we are going to be mired in the stuff we are in right now.
Until then, those wanting blood must wait.