Calipari: Cats need Booker to 'step up'

There may not be a “tweak” for Kentucky this year, but John Calipari always has ideas for how his Wildcats can get better. Even at 34-0 entering the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.

Speaking Monday on the SEC coaches teleconference, the UK boss cited improved guard play as a big reason why the Cats have remained undefeated this season. The Harrison Twins, Andrew and Aaron, both elevated their play as the postseason drew closer, and freshman Tyler Ulis has become an even bigger contributor off the bench.

But Calipari would like to see one member of the UK backcourt rediscover his mojo.

“Devin (Booker) has got to step up a little bit,” Calipari said of his other freshman guard. “… I think you’ll see Devin in the tournament get back to the way he was playing, losing himself in the game. I think there are times he’s thinking a little bit too much because he played so well, the expectation was that every shot was going to go in.”

That’s an accurate, albeit unrealistic, description of Booker’s game back in January. At one point, he was shooting just a hair under 60 percent from beyond the arc and was racking up one SEC Freshman of the Week award after another.

While his stroke still looks sweet, the results have not been as good lately. Perhaps experiencing the grind of a long season, Booker has made only 15 of his last 49 shots (31 percent) from 3-point range. Over his last five games, he’s made only 10 of his 28 total shots and has seen his free throw trips decrease as well. An excellent shooter at the line, he’s only been able to take advantage of 10 shots, hitting eight.

The offensive struggles may be carrying over to other aspects of the game, where Booker has only 12 rebounds, three assists, no steals and no blocked shots in the last five games.

In the meantime, UK has leaned on its exceptional depth and the strong play of the Harrison Twins in particular. During Monday’s SEC teleconference, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, whose Razorbacks lost to UK 78-63 in the SEC Tournament championship game, said the twins have been “phenomenal” of late.

“Andrew and Aaron have played so well, it’s kind of like they did last year at the end of the year,” Calipari added. “They are like, right now, if there are two better guards out there… You’re talking about 6-foot-6, physically strong, skilled with both hands, can pass, can shoot, can pull up over a smaller guard, can rebound the ball, they’re defending on the weak side better.”

Kentucky begins its quest for a ninth national championship and a perfect season on Thursday against either Hampton or Manhattan at the Yum! Center in Louisville as part of the Midwest Region.

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