Scout/Jeff Drummond

After back to back losses by Kentucky Wildcats, John Calipari attempts to calm Big Blue Nation

Coming off back to back losses for only the eighth time during his tenure at Kentucky, John Calipari tells fans there is no reason to panic.

Consecutive losses to Tennessee and Kansas last week have dropped Kentucky to No. 8 in the AP Top 25 poll and sent many fans of the Wildcats outside to make sure the sky is still in place. 

On Monday during his weekly radio show, UK head coach John Calipari attempted to soothe the nerves of a fan base that expects his team to win each and every game it plays. 

"For everyone out there who's in a full-blown panic, just calm down," Calipari joked before borrowing from Ralph Waldo Emerson's journey-not-the-destination advice.

"We've got to enjoy this.... Look, we've been through this before. The reality of it is, it's a process. And it's not always the next step up. Sometimes -- Are you ready for this? -- they take a couple of steps back. And then it's our job as coaches to get them to stride and step and go and move."

History is on Calipari's side. In 2011, he had a team lose four of seven games late in the season before rebounding to ride a 10-game winning streak to the Final Four. In 2014, he had a team that opened the season No. 1 lose 11 times before surging all the way to the national championship game.

These Wildcats may have slipped to 17-4 overall, and Saturday's home loss to Kansas likely ended realistic hopes of a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, but the UK boss is willing to take his guys and play anyone else's personnel from this point forward. 

"A lot of people would like to have our problems," Calipari said, "because I've got good players who are great kids who are trying to figure this stuff out. And I'm trying to figure it out with them.

"I would tell you, I wouldn't trade this team for any team in the country. Even the teams that beat us. No, no. You keep your team, I'll keep mine. Let's play in March. But, let me say this, the way we are right now, it's not good enough, and we've got to get it right."

A lot of what is currently ailing the Cats centers around two issues: (1) an increase in turnovers leading to easy points for the opponent; and (2) breakdowns in on-ball defense leading to "straight-line" drives by the opponent.

Kentucky was one of the best assist-to-turnover margin teams in the country during the first half of the season but suddenly finds itself with a net minus-3 over the last four games. 

Defensively, the Cats have allowed three of the last four opponents to shoot 47 percent or better from the field, a figure that may have driven its defensive-oriented coach to madness in the past. On Saturday, Kansas rallied from a 12-point deficit, in part, by shooting an unheard of 59 percent in the second half at Rupp Arena. 

Calipari said Monday that both problem areas are related to toughness.

"I talked about toughness when the media asked me about it today," he said. "Toughness is not just fighting a guy, it's mentally you're tough. So when you drive, are you trying to be tough or cute? If you're trying to be cute, you're not tough... In most cases, the toughest play is the easiest play."

He added that film revealed that "10 or 12" of the 17 turnovers against Kansas were completely unforced, that the Jayhawks were content to sit back in a zone defense and let the Cats beat themselves with miscues.

"They scored 21 points off our turnovers and 17 points off of offensive rebounds," Calipari said. "That's 38 points, folks. We're not winning."

Kentucky's next test comes Tuesday as Georgia (13-8, 4-4 SEC) comes to Rupp Arena on the heels of a 59-57 win over Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. 

"It'll be a hard game for us to win," Calipari said. "They just beat Texas, and they're a physical team. Their 4 man (Yante Maten) averages 20 a game, and he's a physical beast. Their point guard (J.J. Frazier) averages 16 or 17 a game. They've both given us problems in the past. And Mark (Fox) is a terrific coach. It's going to be a very hard game."


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