John Calipari did his best Roger Daltrey act on Monday, summoning The Who frontman while beckoning "Who are you? I really wanna know," from his young Wildcats.
"Kyle (Wiltjer) is starting to change. Alex (Poythress) is beginning to change. We're getting better, but we've been in flux the whole season," the Kentucky coach said Monday as the Wildcats prepare to play host to South Carolina on Tuesday at Rupp Arena.
"We have not been able to say, ‘Okay, here's who we are. Now let's just get better than what we are.' And it has 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."
Kentucky (15-6, 6-2 SEC) picked up a pair of huge road wins last week at Ole Miss and Texas A&M, but nearly squandered double-digit second-half leads in each game. The Cats saw a 17-point lead shrivel to one Tuesday against the Rebels before coming off the ropes with a 14-2 run in the final four minutes. And on Saturday, the Aggies came back from 10 down to send the game into overtime. UK hung on by hitting eight of 10 free throws in the extra period.
The Wildcats take aim at a long-overdue four-game winning streak as struggling South Carolina (12-9, 2-6 SEC) comes to town, but which UK team will show up?
"I have no idea," Calipari said. "All I know is we're getting better and now hopefully we'll start growing from here. But I don't know."
Asked what his team's identity should be in early February, Calipari remained perplexed: "I don't know. It's still developing."
Injuries have played a key role in slowing the development of an identity. The Cats played without point guard Ryan Harrow for three weeks in November, lost reserve swingman Jon Hood for six games from mid-December to mid-January, and had been without center Willie Cauley-Stein for four games prior to his getting four minutes of action on Saturday against Texas A&M.
Putting the pieces of the puzzle back together has been a challenge, especially with Cauley-Stein as fellow freshman center Nerlens Noel has played at an MVP level that demands he remains on the court at all times.
"Well, Kyle needs to play and Alex needs to play, so it would probably take minutes away from Ryan and probably some minutes away from Archie because, if Alex and Kyle deserve to play more because of how they're playing, well then who's not?" Calipari said. "You've got to take somebody else out. And, Nerlens deserves to play. He needs to be on the floor. You can't say, ‘Well, I'm going to take 15 minutes from Nerlens.' Ain't happening.
"… But Willie has got to also perform. He's got to play the way he's capable of, and he's fine to go. The last game, the only reason I didn't play him in the second half is because of the way the game was going, and I didn't want Nerlens out of the game."
Wiltjer, who has averaged a team-high 15 points per game over the last five games, thinks the Cats may be ready to turn the proverbial corner.
"We've faced adversity having Willie go out and the same with Ryan," he said. "We've just tried to keep positive regardless of the situation. It has taken a while to find our identities, but I think we're starting to come into our own, and hopefully we can just keep building upon it."
Cal: 'Who are you?'
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