USA Today/Jim Brown

John Calipari says Kentucky Wildcats must break one more habit in NCAA Tourney

The Big Blue is on an 11-game win streak, but Calipari says there is still room for improvement.

Kentucky enters the NCAA Tournament this week on an 11-game win streak, one of the longest in the country. 

The Wildcats' improvement over the last three weeks has thrilled UK head coach John Calipari, but he still sees one area that must improve in order for his 29-5 team to make a run to the Final Four.

"If you remember, it took us three weeks to get to where we were like, ‘What in the world is happening here?’" said Calipari, whose team lost three out of four games in late January and early February, culminating with a humbling 88-66 pounding at Florida.

"And then I said it was going to take us another three weeks to get back and start to grow, and that's what's happened. It's kind of played out that way. So, we had to change some stuff around. We had to do some things a little different. We had to practice a little different. Had to emphasize some different things."

To wit, Kentucky is defending and rebounding much better than it did earlier in the season. The Cats have improved their adjusted defensive efficiency to a No. 9 national ranking and have been out-rebounded only once since the blowout loss to the Gators. 

Now Calipari has turned some focus toward a situational basketball concern -- building on leads when the opportunity arises.

Kentucky has occasionally lost its focus on the verge of blowing out a few opponents. The Cats led Mississippi State by 18 and won by seven. They led LSU by 25 and won by seven. In the Kansas defeat, UK looked poised to run away with the game in the first half -- leading by as many as 12 points -- but lost by six. 

"More consistency," Calipari said Monday on the SEC coaches teleconference. "We're not doing it for 40 minutes; we're doing it for 30. There are things tha we're doing in games that are letting people hang around."

A forced shot early in the possession off a one-on-one move.

Bouncing a pass off a teammates' foot for an unforced turnover. 

Not looking inside to center Bam Adebayo, by far UK's best percentage shooter.

Missing the front end of a bonus free-throw situation.

"If you're going to do something in this thing that we're walking into," Calipari said of the big dance, "if you give a team hope, and it's life or death, they're coming out clawing. They're coming out like a cornered animal. So you can't give them hope. And we do that a lot.

"That's where I say we're getting better, but what we're doing, we've got to try to do it for 38 minutes. I would take 35. But right now, we're like at 30, and sometimes less."

The UK boss said some of the issue is related to the Cats' youth, starting three freshmen and playing a fourth in the main rotation. But he added that some of it is just bad habits. 

"The experience is doing it on the court, creating new habits, whether you're young or old, that is going to put you in a position to be more consistent with your effort, your focus, being locked in... all those things that, when we are, we're really good," Calipari said. "When we're not, we're really bad. So that's what it is."

Kentucky opens the tourney on Friday night at approximately 9:45 p.m. ET against Horizon League champion Northern Kentucky, the No. 15 seed, in Indianapolis. 


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