Calipari: You don't change the special sauce

Fielding a number of suggestions for how to “fix” his top-ranked, undefeated Kentucky squad on Wednesday during his weekly radio call-in show, John Calipari entertained a few ideas, but eventually just had to pause and laugh.

“You know, Kentucky Fried Chicken, what do they say, they got them spices,” the UK boss said after a caller asked if he had considered mixing up the starting lineup. “Maybe it’s time to change those spices? I don’t think so. Or that stuff, what do they do in that Big Mac? Is there a special sauce in that Big Mac? It’s time to change that special sauce…

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“Wait a minute!” Capilari exclaimed. “We’re doing pretty good! Do we really want to change the sauce?"

Make no mistake, Kentucky (24-0, 11-0 SEC) is doing “pretty good.” The Wildcats have now recorded the second best start in the program’s illustrious history. With one more victory, perhaps Saturday at Rupp Arena against South Carolina, they can match the 1953-54 squad for the best start ever.

But part of leading the Big Blue Nation is also realizing there is a seemingly endless line of assistant coaches ready to find ways to assist the cause.

Some have expressed concern with UK’s offense, although it’s been defense that has been more inconsistent the last nine games. Eight opponents have shot better than 41 percent against the Cats in the last nine games. At one point earlier this season, UK had held nine opponents to under 30 percent from the field, including ranked teams like Kansas, Texas and Louisville.

“Folks, we’re sixth in the country in offense,” Calipari said. “I know they think we should be playing like the (Cleveland) Cavaliers, offensively. But to be sixth in the country in efficiency, can I tell you, probably the best my team has been ever. So I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. Would I like us to be first in the country? Yeah, I guess it would be nice. We’ll gear toward that.

“Our post play’s getting better. Our turnovers (are low)… Our perimeter play has been solid. We shoot the ball well in most games… Our free throws are up.”

Relax and take a deep breath, BBN.

“I think we’re fine,” Calipari said before offering his rationale on why the status quo should remain in place. “I may change the starting lineup a little bit, but I like the veteran group (Blue platoon) to start the game, and I love the energy of the second group, the White platoon. And I also like to start the second half with the White platoon.

“The one thing we all have to realize and understand is, when you start talking Willie (Cauley-Stein), Andrew (Harrison) and Aaron (Harrison), they led us to the championship game (last year). And if Willie doesn’t get hurt, we probably win it. And those three were the three best players, if you look at how those games went. Now, Julius (Randle) did fine and James (Young) did fine, but those two and Willie were really fine.”

Added Calipari: “I’m always looking to tweak stuff, but what is that they say about the (bath) water and the baby? Yeah. Whatever that means.”

Another caller asked if the UK coach welcomes more tight games to get his team ready for the postseason. The Cats have been in two overtime games (Texas A&M and Ole Miss) and most recently a game Tuesday night at LSU that came down to a 3-pointer by the Tigers missing the mark as time expired in UK’s 71-69 win.

“No, we’ve had enough,” Calipari said of the close encounters. “The thing is, we’ve got three more road games, (and) what do you think the environment at Tennessee is going to be like? Mississippi State, remember that was the ‘phone call game’ with DeMarcus Cousins. We were down, what, 13 at halftime? And then we gotta go to Georgia, which I think the last two times we played down there they bashed us pretty good, both games. So we’ve got a tough road, and that ain’t even your home games.

“You still got Florida and Arkansas. Arkansas beat us twice last year. Florida beat us three times last year. You got South Carolina and Auburn… Hey, look. We can all say ‘Undefeated! Woo!’ I’m just worried about us getting better. Winning will take care of itself, and so will losing at times… We’ll deal with whatever happens.”

Calipari said he was willing to let the Cats take a loss Tuesday at LSU if it meant making the team better. Freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns picked up a technical foul after missing a dunk attempt and hanging on the rim for a prolonged period of time. Kentucky was 10 points at the time, but saw the Tigers cash in with a four-point trip on the other end of the floor to re-energize a Maravich Assembly Center crowd which had been effectively neutralized to that point.

Next thing you know, LSU had engineered a 21-2 run to take a late lead.

In the final weeks of the regular season, Calipari wants his team to focus on extending a lead beyond the cozy level.

“We gotta start getting people at 13 and start pushing it to 25,” he said. “Not to try to beat people by 25, (but) to prepare for what’s coming in March.”

A team messes around in a tournament game, “You go home, baby, with your head down,” Calipari added.

He does believe, however, that the close games UK has played to date will be beneficial.

“The thing that matters is when you get to the point in the season where you lose and your season ends,” Calipari said, “that’s why you need close games, so you know your team won’t get rattled.”

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