Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon readily admitted after Saturday’s 65-62 loss to the Cats that Tennessee’s game plan was to play as rough as possible, especially against freshman center Anthony Davis and sophomore Terrence Jones.
“Most definitely that is what we wanted to do. We know we are a physical team and most teams like Kentucky put on a persona like they are tough and physical, but most teams aren’t. We just went out there and tried to hit them in the mouth,” Maymon said.
He could tell it worked, too.
“A lot of times they didn’t want to touch the ball. They wanted to pass it out. They are players. Stuff happens, but I don’t think Jones liked it much at all,” Maymon said.
Tennessee even used Jarnell Stokes, a December high school graduate playing in his first game, to knock around the team that he considered joining before picking the home-state Volunteers.
“He moved them out with his hips and body. He helped us get more physical,” Maymon, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, said. “We already knew we could play with them or anybody in NCAA basketball.
We weren’t scared to play Kentucky. We knew they couldn’t take us out of what we do, but sometimes we take ourselves out. Jarnell just helped us be even tougher on them.”
Maymon says even Davis’ length was not that big an issue like other teams have insisted it had been against the nation’s top shot blocker.
“His length did not surprise me. I play against taller guys and I am good at using my body to get people like him in foul trouble. But he’s a good shot blocker. He got my first shot and then I did some other things so that wouldn’t happen. Mainly, you just have to be physical against him and Jones and not back down,” Maymon said.
Calipari basically agreed with Maymon’s postgame assessment.
“We ended up outrebounding them by three, but the reality is that when there were tough balls to get, they got them until maybe the very end,” Calipari said.
The UK¿coach says part of the problem might be that Davis and freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist get so many rebounds that other players have shied away from going inside.
“You can’t play that way. I would rather them bump heads and knock it out of bounds than having a guy go half speed after it and their guy push us out of the way and grab the ball,” Calipari said.
Despite Calipari’s worries about UK’s lack of physical play, especially in Southeastern Conference games, the Cats are 17-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play going into Tuesday’s game against Arkansas. Yet Calipari can only wonder what might happen if he got all his top players performing the way he believes they can.
“It would be scary, but it starts with physical play. If those guys will play more physical, those guys will be more aggressive offensively and make better plays. Simple,” Calipari said. “Everything happens from physical play. When you negate it, you get and-ones, get a steal, get a breakout. You fly. You don’t jog up and down the court,” Calipari said.
“All that stuff ... and there is no easy way to it. The easiest way to play is move around the perimeter and shoot jump shots. ‘I am not going in there. That stuff is rough.’ If you are playing that way, that’s how you are going to play offensively. You can’t play that way.”
Calipari says Kentucky still has things to work through to be a national championship contender and elite team.
“Here is a problem when you are coaching. There are some guys that want the ball but you don’t want to want the ball. There are some guys that don’t want the ball and you want them to have the ball. And then there are guys you want and they want and that’s the ones that go make plays. Pretty simple,” Calipari said.
“This team has a good, solid will to win. The issue is when it gets rough and the other team plays that way we are not negating it right now. We are playing right into their hands and letting them control tempo, rebounds, seconds shots, push us around, setting screens. Before this ends if we want to be special, we have to when a team comes out and play that’s way, you have to say that has no effect on that team any more. We are not there yet.”