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December 3, 2012
Cats go back to drawing board after consecutive losses
John Calipari's panic button remains unpushed.
The Kentucky coach isn't happy with his newly-unranked team and its back-to-back losses. He isn't thrilled with his players' work habits, his team's leadership or the Wildcats' will to win.
As Kentucky (4-3) - which dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 after losses to Notre Dame and Baylor - prepares for a Tuesday tilt with Samford (2-7), Calipari is staying level-headed.
"I'm not rattled in any way," Calipari said. "I'm not, 'Oh my God, we lost a couple games!' This is not football. We're not out of the national title hunt. We're not out of anything. All we have to do is get right."
Getting right doesn't come overnight.
And so while Calipari reiterated Monday that he likes his team, he conceded that it may take time to like the way it plays.
The Cats went through two practices on Sunday designed to hold players more accountable - the entire team ran for individual players' mistakes, for example - and make them tougher.
"It was one of the tougher practices," guard Archie Goodwin said. "I can definitely say it had my body a little sore afterwards. I know it's for the best for us, it will make us better, so I'm all for it."
Kentucky was done in as much by offensive execution as effort in last week's losses. But despite his team shooting a combined 33.9 percent against the Irish and Bears, Calipari seemed more concerned with the Cats' approach.
"I got one call from a friend, 'You know, your teams always have a sense of urgency. This team doesn't,'" Calipari said. "Like, it's just OK to go out here and play basketball. There's no desperation, sense of urgency, toughness, diving."
Calipari took some of the blame. He shifted his practice focus too soon, he said, away from developing habits of playing hard and to handling specific time and score situations. His players weren't ready for the change.
But he also lamented his players' lack of extra time in the gym outside of practice. He said this team lacks the drive that some of his pervious teams had, some of their all-out, all-the-time approach.
Asked if he has a leader like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was for last season's NCAA title-winning team - a player who would bring teammates along with him for extra gym time - Calipari admitted that he doesn't know yet.
"You have some guys that cannot lead," Calipari said. "They've negated that ability. You have other guys maybe (who) don't think they're playing well enough to lead, and you've had other guys that probably don't want to work that hard to lead. So, you've got a little combination. Eventually someone will step up."
Until they do, Calipari will push harder. He worked his team harder in practice on Sunday, he said, than he prefers to do in-season, given his concern about injuries.
"But this team needs it," Calipari said. "It's not their fault. At the end of the day it's my fault."
But freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said the Wildcats can take steps on their own to improve.
"We've been playing soft since we started," Cauley-Stein said. "I'm guilty myself. I can play a lot better than I have been playing. Just… going out there and saying, 'You're not better than me, so I'm going to go twice as hard just to make you look bad.' That's what we've got to start doing as a whole team: going out there, playing like it's our championship game instead of (the other team's)."
Cauley-Stein indicated that the losing streak has galvanized the Cats. Several players deleted their Twitter accounts after negative feedback from fans. And he said the players have stopped worrying about proving themselves to outsiders.
"We've got to really focus in here and prove to ourselves that we're better than everybody that we've got to play against," Cauley-Stein said. "Right now, we're not showing it, at all."
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