Calipari: It's not just free throws

There are very few topics for which Kentucky coach John Calipari and the Big Blue Nation don't see eye to eye. But free throws may be the biggest difference of opinion. Find out why the UK boss says it's not as big an issue as fans are making it out to be.

There isn't much that John Calipari hasn't been able to sell Kentucky fans since arriving in Lexington five years ago.

A national championship, two trips to the Final Four and a string of No. 1 recruiting classes will do that for the Wildcats' coach.

If Coach Cal decrees it, Big Blue Nation generally backs it.

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Unless, of course, that topic turns to free throws.

Kentucky dropped to 12-4 on the season following its 87-85 overtime loss at Arkansas on Tuesday. The defeat put the Cats a game behind Florida in the SEC standings and will likely cause them to drop from their current AP Top 25 ranking of No. 13.

With fans starting to get a bit squeamish about tournament seeding ramifications, they are pointing their collective finger at UK's Achilles heel, the so-called "charity stripe," where the Cats have missed a combined 55 attempts in their four losses.

Kentucky is shooting a modest 66 percent at the line for the season, but that figure dips to 61 percent in the losses to Michigan State, Baylor, North Carolina and Arkansas. And because each one of those setbacks were a "one-possession game" inside of the final three minutes, the blame has fallen on failure to take the art of free throw shooting seriously.

But Calipari says fans are putting too much emphasis on the perceived flaw.

"That's an issue, but I'm telling you, it's not the overriding issue, just making free throws. It's not," Calipari said Wednesday during his weekly radio show when several callers expressed concern about UK's bricks at the line.

Or as he said after Tuesday's game: "You just can't go 1-of-2 every time while the other team goes 2-of-2."

But it's not like Arkansas set the nets on fire, either. The Razorbacks missed 12 of their 41 attempts, including five of eight at one point late in the second half as the Cats chipped away at the deficit.

Instead, the UK boss is pointing to other mistakes that continue to plague the Cats. Like 10 first-half turnovers that led to 14 Arkansas points. Or committing a needless foul that sends a key player to the bench. Or taking an NBA-range 3-pointer when the opponent cannot defend a player off the dribble. Or a lax in-bound pass in a tight situation. Or failing to block out on a missed shot at the end of the game.

"Freshmen make those kind of errors," said Calipari, who owns the nation's youngest roster and is starting four freshmen while giving three others significant playing time. "Communication errors because you're not focused on what you're supposed to do, and that's the kind of stuff that cost us."

When the team reviews its mistakes from the Arkansas loss this week in practice, Calipari says he'll focus not on free throws, but on a handful of other plays that cost them against the Razorbacks.

"I think if we guarded and we didn't give up the five or six easy baskets where we just stopped, we still woulda won the game," he said.

Kentucky plays host to Tennessee on Saturday at Rupp Arena.

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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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