John Calipari is rarely without an answer, but even he is still working to put his finger on the identity of Kentucky's basketball team nearly halfway through Southeastern Conference play.
“I don't know, it's still developing,” Calipari said on Monday.
Of the coach's four seasons at Kentucky, this campaign has been the most inconsistent and without definition as the schedule turns to February. Some of that has been due to issues such as Ryan Harrow's two-week hiatus at the beginning of the season and Willie Cauley-Stein's recent knee procedure that forced him to miss four games, but the Cats just haven't been able to put it all together to this point.
“We're getting better but we've been in flux the whole season,” Calipari said. “We have not been able to say, okay, here's who we are and let's just get better and it's put us in positions where we're not as confident in each other. Guys don't believe in each other the way they should, we just haven't been together like that.”
Despite the trust issues and struggles with stepping on opponent's necks when opportunity presents itself the Cats have managed to right themselves while winning five of the last six games and are 4-1 on the road in conference play, joining league-leading Florida as the only teams with four road victories.
While improvement is there, Calipari is far from satisfied with UK's play. He has continually harped on the Cats' lack of will to win and physicality as points of concern moving forward.
“We're just hanging on,” Calipari said. “We're hanging on and we're not near our best. We're hanging on, and this is what happens when you have a young team. You look at numbers, we have five guys in double figures (in scoring) and really six. Shoot a pretty good percentage. Defensively, hold them to a pretty good percentage both in the three and the two. I mean, literally, like really good. And we got all young kids.
“Why are we turning it over? We're soft with the ball. So you just come down and throw it away. You don't have that toughness. But short of that, we’ve just gotta become a better finishing team. We’ve gotta become a better team when we’re up 15 or 16. And that’s all mindset. That’s all that is.”
Calipari has lamented UK's body language and attitude when opponents get on a run, which has been evident in at least six conference outings. The Cats have righted themselves to hold on for a win in four of those but the issue remains a front burner one.
“Like Coach Cal said, you get negative thoughts and it kind of snowballs,” sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer said. “We just want to get that out of our minds and keep playing positive and doing what we know we can do.
“We know every team is going to make their run. Now we just need to keep working on improving to not let that rattle us and make our own run in each game. Even if we make a bad play, Coach really just wants us to move on. He's going to stay on us, but it's because he wants the best. So we just want to have that short-term memory and just get on to the next play so we don't let it affect us.”
With just five weeks remaining for the Cats to put the rest of the puzzle together, Calipari remains unsure of where his squad is on its growth curve.
“I have no idea, all I know is we're getting better and now hopefully we'll start growing from here,” he said.
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