Cats still looking for discipline following win at Vandy


Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk goes up for a dunk against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the second half at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee on Tuesday, January 10, 2017. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff

Anthony Crawford

Disciplined play is something that No. 6 UK basketball abandons at times when being caught up in its fast-paced style.

Weeding out that type of play was a top priority for John Calipari and the Cats over the break and during the two-a-days and extra practices of Camp Cal. Now with the team just getting into the teeth of SEC play, strides are already showing in the team being able to turn it around and play winning basketball.

Look, I got good players. I’m sitting here, it’s not about me coaching,” Calipari said after UK’s 87-81 win over Vanderbilt Tuesday. “I’ve got really good players. My job is to get them more disciplined, more focused, playing when another team’s playing a certain way.”

Over the break, the young Cats were tested on multiple occasions and how they responded under that pressure was very telling for how the team needed to improve moving forward.

Against the North Carolina Tar Heels in Las Vegas UK came up against an opponent that nearly beat the Cats at their own game. The up-tempo affair quickly became an instant classic, though, as UK freshman Malik Monk put on a one-of-a-kind performance dropping 47 points to secure the 103-100 victory.

In the team’s next outing, the Cats were thrown out of their rhythm on the road against rival Louisville Cardinals and Monk wasn’t there to save them as he went cold from the field. Fellow freshman De’Aaron Fox led the team in scoring in the losing effort but some turnovers on his part and the hot shooting from the Cards was too much to overcome.

Defense was an issue in both of those games, and improvement on that side of the ball shined through immediately after Camp Cal and the start SEC play.

UK went on a tear to open conference play, beating Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Arkansas by an average margin of victory of over 30 points. The great play was fueled by the great play of the guards, especially in their hounding of the point of attack from the other team.

Things changed though in the team’s matchup with Vandy in Nashville Tuesday, as foul trouble plagued the Cats early and allowed the Commodores to hang around until the very end.

“We need close games. It’s just important for us to show people that we can win these close games. We had a tough game against North Carolina,” Fox said following the game against Vanderbilt. “It’s just something that we need to build towards, because we are a young team and when people get us in a close game, that we don’t have the experience to be able to win games like that.”

The officials played a big part in UK never settling down defensively and because the players tried to avoid picking up fouls, Vanderbilt’s offense effectively looked like it was in layup lines when it wasn’t chucking threes.

The lack of discipline showed when both Monk and Fox picked up two fouls early in the first half but then carried on to the second half when the freshmen whiffed on some chances to put the game away. Calipari particularly wasn’t pleased with a poster dunk attempt from Monk that failed, and both guards also took multiple early-shot clock jumpers but actually made them to keep UK ahead.

Once those two followed sophomore Isaiah Briscoe’s suit in driving to the rim, UK chances of winning stabilized. Briscoe led UK with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and played much more to Calipari’s liking.

The game at Vanderbilt forced UK to find another way to win, again proving that this team has the will and fight to win games. But the means of doing so was foggy in this one and the team is still not clicking as it should.

“The only issue was, I had to make calls every time down the floor to get us the kind of shot we needed. That means they are not empowered yet,” Calipari said. “When your team is empowered, they can do it themselves. They know where to go with the ball, they know what kind of shot to take, who’s getting the ball. We’re not empowered yet.”

This goal of empowerment can only be attained by the team reaching the discipline that Calipari keeps mentioning, but this young team gained some valuable experience in Nashville and it is trending up now.