Calipari still pushing for perfect


University of Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari yells at his team during the first half of UK’s 68-66 win over UNC on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009 in Rupp Arena. Photo by Ed Matthews

It’s not just his players who aren’t quite used to mid-March form just yet. It’s his coaching staff, too.

UK head coach John Calipari kept making the wrong substitutions in the first half of Saturday’s game because he was misinformed about the number of fouls Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins had. He kept subbing Liggins in and out, thinking he had two fouls, and kept Jones on the floor because he thought the freshman only had one. Reality was the reverse.

As UK stares down March, it’s those types of mistakes Calipari is looking to fix. After UK’s 90-59 drubbing of South Carolina, Calipari maintained that the Cats still had a lot to work on. He saw sloppiness beating the press, some pick-and-roll defense breakdowns, and one-handed rebounds.

Calipari said Brandon Knight (nine assists, one turnover) could run the team better. Doron Lamb (18 points) could have played harder when UK had the big lead. Even Darius Miller, who scored a career-high 22 points, was put on the spot for reverting during a “two-minute” period.

“He had one stretch that I wanted to choke him because he had played so well, so aggressive, so strong,” Calipari said, adding that he wasn’t being literal. “But then you hit a two-minute spurt where you just, you know, go soft again, get pushed out of the way. Why?”

UK is taking the criticism to heart. Josh Harrellson said Calipari was delivering the same message to the team as he was to the media.

“The coach got to say something about somebody,” Liggins said. “You got to expect that. He’s not going to say we all played perfect. He’s a coach. He’s just trying to get us better.”

As UK pushes for a first-round bye in the Southeastern Conference tournament, some aspects still need to be shored up for a stretch run that includes games at Arkansas, vs. Florida and Vanderbilt and at Tennessee. Calipari said UK still needs to work on playing a 40-minute game and not letting one bad play roll into three or four consecutive negative plays.

Thus, the ongoing intensity despite a consistent lead of around 30 points.

“Coach (John) Robic, as we walked in (at halftime) said, ‘What did you want, a shutout?’” Calipari said. “Probably.”

Calipari said he didn’t watch the scoreboard as UK’s lead escalated. First, he’s seen too many double-digit leads evaporate this year. Second, he wanted to just watch their play and see if they could maintain it.

“And so we got up, and they started getting sloppy,” Calipari said. “I said, ‘I’m not looking at the score. I’m looking at how we’re playing.’”

Calipari said his guys try as hard as they can to listen to and adopt his teachings, none more so than Liggins. But at the end of they day, if he has to get on them for something, he’ll do it. Because that’s what coaches do.

“If they’re not doing what they are supposed to do, I just told them, ‘I’m coaching you,’” Calipari said. “Whether you like it or not, I’m coaching you.”