The UK coach’s rationale? More risk, more reward.
“There are things these kids have worked on in practice, a lot of it individually, to stretch out their game,” said Calipari, whose 30-0 Wildcats will face the rival Florida Gators on Saturday at Rupp Arena in the regular-season finale.
“You’ve got to go try it in the game,” the UK boss continued. “You’re going to make some mistakes. You’re going to turn it over some. We went back over our stats, and in our lowest-turnover games, our points per possession were our lowest. And as our turnovers went up a little bit – now they can’t be 25 – but where they’re in that range I’m talking about – 11, 12 maybe 13, 14 – we had our highest number of points per possession.”
A deeper glance into the UK season stats chart shows Calipari may not be a hoops mad scientist on this concept. He may have a point.
Kentucky has been extremely impressive in taking care of the ball this season, turning it over only 323 times compared to 430 for opponents. The Cats are averaging only 10.7 turnovers a game. However, in two of their highest-three turnover games this season – 18 against UT Arlington and 17 against Eastern Kentucky – they scored 92 and 82 points, respectively. UK also had 15 turnovers in its 110-point outburst against Auburn.
Conversely, UK has had a combined 10 turnovers in two matchups against Georgia and scored a modest 72 and 69 points. The Cats had just five turnovers against Alabama in scoring 70 points, and only eight against South Carolina in finishing with 58 points.
The only game this season in which high turnovers led to a less-than-desirable score was the Louisville game, where UK coughed it up 18 times and finished with 58 points.
“I don’t want my team to have seven turnovers,” said Calipari, whose team is currently No. 6 nationally in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. “That means that we’re not being aggressive enough. We’re not trying. Go play. I’m not holding (you) back. Now, I don’t want you to leave your feet, one-handed catches, look-away passes – crazy stuff. But I’m saying be aggressive and make plays.”
Don’t expect a proud program like Florida, however, to just stand aside and let UK work on building its perfect beast. The Cats can’t be careless against the Gators (15-15, 8-9 SEC) who have not had the kind of season that was expected when the ball was tipped in November.
Florida comes in having won its last two games against Tennessee and Texas A&M, and Kentucky’s players aren’t expecting a pushover.
“We just gotta treat it like every other game,” sophomore center Dakari Johnson said. “We know that Florida’s going to come in here with a mentality to beat us. So we just gotta go out there and play hard.
“(The last UK-UF matchup) was an intense game. They played probably their best game of the season against us. I know that’s what their coach said. And we just came in there and pulled out with a win.”
Kentucky won the first meeting 68-61 in Gainesville on February 7. The Cats and Gators tip off Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on CBS.