Calipari: Cats must not look back

Big Blue Nation may be having a hard time forgetting about the Wildcats' free fall from a preseason No. 1 ranking, but Kentucky coach John Calipari says it's the most important thing for his team to do right now.

Big Blue Nation may be having a hard time forgetting about the Wildcats' free fall from a preseason No. 1 ranking, but Kentucky coach John Calipari says it's the most important thing for his team to do right now.

"My message to them was simple today," he said. "You can't change how we started. We're not changing it. You can change how you approach the end, and that's how you'll be remembered."

Coming off its latest close-but-no-cigar performance in an 82-77 loss at North Carolina, Kentucky (8-3) begins the process of mending its collective psyche – and perhaps its national reputation – on Saturday against Belmont at Rupp Arena.

The Bruins (8-4) made headlines earlier this season by knocking off North Carolina 83-80 in Chapel Hill, but are facing consistency issues of their own. Once on the verge of a Top 25 ranking, Belmont now comes to Lexington having dropped back to back games to South Dakota State and Denver.

While he expresses respect for the Cats' next opponent, Calipari's focus is almost exclusively on his own team.

"We've made strides in practice, but you've got to carry it over," he said. "You've got to take the habits we're trying to create, and understand you've really got to focus."

The UK boss said that means players sacrificing a few minutes for the greater benefit of the team and being more willing to accept roles.

One role he expects from all players is a better effort on the defensive end of the floor.

"This team at the end of the day has got to be a great defensive team," Calipari said. "That's where we need to be, and we're not.

"Understanding that's got to be the best part of your game as an individual. Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) understood it because he didn't shoot the ball well. He knew. ‘Well, I'm not making a name shooting the ball. I'm making a name playing defense, rebounding and being vicious.' We have guys here that have to take that on. It's hard to do that."

But it may be catching on. Freshman guard Aaron Harrison has impressed Calipari with his approach to recent practices.

"He's been great," Calipari said. "Aaron, in yesterday's practice when it started going and then when we were winding it down, he stepped up. He has an edge to him that we need everybody to have."

He's also calling for more patience from all parties while he continues to mold the young, but talented roster.

"I always have a sense of urgency," Calipari said. "I want them to be better right now. But, it's going to be a process, and we've all got to live with it. Me especially. It's not always on my timetable, or our fans, or the media when the light will go on. But, I have all the confidence in the world it will at some point. I keep saying that it will be our persistence versus their resistance. They have to understand that I'm not changing."

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for FOX Sports since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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