After watching the Wildcats fall 74-62 on Saturday at Vanderbilt, the UK boss says he's seeking new ways to bring out more confidence in his inconsistent club. Fans will recall he introduced a similar "tweak" late in the 2013-14 season as the Cats went from a No. 8 seed to the national championship game and hinted of one last year even though he took an undefeated record into postseason play.
“Well, this is probably a week early for me, but we tweaked a few things," Calipari said Monday prior to UK's trip to Florida. "Scary word. So we tweaked a few things, and it’s not a wholesale change from what we do, but you Basketball Bennies will have an idea of what I did. Most of you in this room have no idea what I tweaked, but the people who really follow it and study it will say, ‘Well,l this is what he just did.'"
Kentucky (21-8, 11-5 SEC) is tied with Texas A&M for the SEC lead with two games remaining in the regular season. The Cats play Tuesday at Florida and at home against LSU on Saturday before heading into March Madness.
Cryptic banter with the media aside, Calipari suggested his latest tweak has more to do with the players' mentality than Xs and Os.
“We’ve got some guys that we have to help them build confidence," he said. "Some of it’s just teaching them how to assert themselves... I told the big guys, ‘You gotta figure out ways as we’re playing, whether you can post or whether you can get it in transition, you gotta assert yourself. You gotta insert yourself in how we’re playing.’ So, we’re talking about it and trying to help them through that.
“Just put people in positions that they can be more confident.”
Kentucky's frontcourt was a major issue in the loss at Vanderbilt. Marcus Lee was the only non-guard who scored in the game. Combined with fellow bigs Alex Poythress, Skal Labissiere and Isaac Humphries, the group combined for only nine points, 11 rebounds and 14 fouls in 68 minutes of play.
WILLIS CLOSE TO RETURN
Calipari said hobbled junior forward Derek Willis is not expected to play Tuesday against the Gators, but the staff is hopeful he'll be ready for the regular-season finale against LSU.
“He went on the practice floor and ran up and down yesterday, and I didn’t see any black and blue or swelling, so I would say he’s getting closer," Calipari said. "I doubt if he plays tomorrow, but he’s going up and down.”
Willis (7.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) has not played since suffering a severe ankle sprain late in the Texas A&M game. Without him the last two games, Jamal Murray is the only UK player to have made a 3-pointer. Willis is shooting 50 percent (33 of 66) from behind the arc in SEC play.
The Mount Washington, Ky., native had a career-high 25-point game against Tennessee and a pair of 12-rebound games prior to suffering the injury.
CATS DROP IN POLLS
It was a rough week for teams in the AP Top 25.
Ranked teams suffered 16 combined losses last week, including one for top-ranked Villanova and two apiece for top 10 clubs Iowa and Arizona. New No. 1 Kansas and new No. 2 Michigan State were two teams that made it through the week unscathed. They were followed by Villanova, Virginia and Xavier to round out the top five.
Kentucky dropped from No. 16 to No. 22 after its loss at Vanderbilt. Texas A&M, the only other SEC club in the new rankings, rose to No. 20 after defeating Mississippi State and Missouri.
The Cats, however, moved up to a No. 3 seed in ESPN "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi's latest projected NCAA Tournament field.
MURRAY NAMED SEC FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
UK's Jamal Murray claimed his fourth SEC Freshman of The Week honor after averaging 28.0 points and 6.5 rebounds against Alabama and Vanderbilt. He shared the honor with LSU's Antonio Blakeney, who averaged 27 points against Arkansas and Florida.