LEXINGTON — All 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament have one thing in common in John Calipari’s mind.
“Every one of them is playing out of desperation,” said the Kentucky coach. “So if you’re still playing now, you’re fortunate and if you expect it is going to be easy you’ll get beat. These games are going to be tough, every one of them.”
Calipari says that certainly includes Kentucky’s game in Atlanta on Friday night with Indiana, one of two teams to beat the Wildcats this season. The Hoosiers needed a last-second, 3-point shot by Christian Watford to beat UK 73-72 in mid-December, but Calipari says something Kentucky fans might find painful — the score was not indicative of how much the Hoosiers outplayed UK in Bloomington.
“They beat us every way. They were more physical. They played with more intensity. They executed better. Made shots that they had to make. We had a couple guys, literally, no-show the game. Wasn’t just one, you guys got one but if you watch the tape it was more like two or three. Michael (Kidd-) Gilchrist was really a man that kept us in; Marquis Teague played better in the second half; first half was not very good,” said Calipari.
That was the game Terrence Jones had just four points and one rebound. Foul trouble limited Anthony Davis to six points — “He left his feet twice; he didn’t need to either time.” Doron Lamb, UK’s best foul shooter, missed a late free throw.
Indiana’s physical play did bother UK the first game. In the Southeastern Conference Tournament, LSU and Vanderbilt were extremely physical with Kentucky. So was Iowa State in UK’s win Saturday in Louisville that got the Wildcats into the South Regional semifinal, where a win would send UK¿into the region final against the Baylor-Xavier survivor.
“We’re just trying to tweak what we have and let’s get better at what we do. Be ready for a physical war,” Calipari said Tuesday. “I’m watching all these games, I don’t know where this physical play stuff that we were supposed to be calling went to. I swore one team had lacrosse equipment. We’re doing stuff physically so that we can be in that kind of game and withstand it. Because you don’t have any control over how it is going to go, is it going to be a rough game or not, is it going to be called closely or not.”
Calipari and Indiana coach Tom Crean are friends, and the UK coach thinks he already knows what Indiana’s defensive strategy will be.
“What Indiana is going to do, they are going to back off of Teague and they’re going to back off of Michael (Kidd-) Gilchrist. The only issue is that it’s dangerous because we have all seen those guys have big games and what you’re hoping is, let’s hope they’re not making shots. That’s what I would think they would do,” Calipari said.
Teague foiled Iowa State’s strategy of doing that by scoring a career-high 24 points and getting free inside the lane numerous times when the Cyclones left him. Kidd-Gilchrist has not scored in double figures the last three games and has made just one 3-point shot in his last 18 games, but Calipari said after Saturday’s game he was not worried about Kidd-Gilchrist’s offense or overall play.
“I think what we are is a good defensive team, we are an athletic team, we’re a driving team. If we make 3’s we are a really strong team. Again, Iowa State played a heck of a basketball game. They missed 3’s but we were up on them, they didn’t get many open looks and when they got open looks they made them,” Calipari said. “We acted like they (UK’s players) should have beat Iowa State. Well let me just tell you, Kansas didn’t beat Iowa State, you’re talking about a terrific basketball team but we played well.
“We did what we’re supposed to do and that’s what you have to do each game here. It’s about how do we play our best, let’s not get too fancy, let’s not get too crazy. This isn’t the time to trick them. When you try to trick people at the end of the season, you trick yourself. We have established who we are, they have established who they are. We have a good idea of how they will play us. (Crean) knows how we will play them. Throw it up and let’s see what happens.”
After his team played five games in eight days, Calipari gave the Wildcats Sunday off and then UK had what he called an “okay” practice Monday after he returned from a recruiting trip to see Nerlens Noel, the nation’s top-ranked senior.
“Today we have to zero in on a few things and get ready for a tough ball game,” Calipari said before Tuesday’s practice. “It’s funny how now everybody is trying to give Tom (Crean) billboard action, ‘they’re going to kill them.’ Come on now. That was like a season ago, literally four months ago. That was so long ago I had to watch the tape to remember anything.
“But they played well. The one thing about it is we are better but so are they. Both teams are better now than they were then. They execute better, they have a better plan for what their strengths are, and how they are playing is to cause mismatches and trying to get (Cody) Zeller the ball. Their guys that are drivers are driving and doing a great job and then defensively they are way better than they were, they are more physical.”
One change for the Hoosiers is that guard Verdell Jones is no longer playing due to a knee injury.
“Well (Jordan) Hulls is their point guard. He is another handler for them. They just shorten their rotation,” Calipari said. “This time of the year you can get by with playing five guys if they stay out of foul trouble. You are getting two and a half minute timeouts, 60 minutes halftime. It’s like, ‘what in the world, let’s play the games.’”
UK Basketball: No easy games for any teams this time of year, Calipari says
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