UK focused on improving play on the road, down the stretch



UK has dropped its first two conference road games, and South Carolina isn’t any easier. UK’s next opponent was projected to be near the bottom of the SEC East after losing Devan Downey. Instead, South Carolina leads the SEC East. This game has suddenly become more crucial for UK than expected.

“We understand walking in it’s going to be a sold out building,” head coach John Calipari said. “They’re going to play out of their minds. They’re going to make shots they don’t make.”

UK started the game slow against both Georgia and Alabama, and the deficits proved too large to overcome in each case. What’s disconcerting is that the primary message before the Alabama game was to start the game with intensity, and yet UK did not. This time around, the same message is being said, but with a little more conviction.

“We know how it is after a loss now that we’ve had a couple, and the guys are starting to mature,” Josh Harrellson said. “We know we have to come out and practice with great intensity and focus because we can’t going down this road, with this losing.”

UK broke down multiple plays against Alabama, including a few at the end of the game when UK had a chance to take the lead. To avoid the same problem, Calipari is drilling his team on communication.

“Yesterday was all about communication in practice, because we have to have that on the road,” Harrellson said. “(We had) all five guys relaying calls, and if they didn’t we kept doing it until all five guys did.”

Calipari said this team isn’t “20 points better than anybody,” and as such, UK expects to be in a lot of close games. To be able to win those close contests, UK needs to improve on executing plays down the stretch. Against South Carolina, UK botched a play despite having two timeouts to go over the play in the huddle. The very last play of the game, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb weren’t on the same page in trying to get a last-second shot off.

“You have to come up with a good, clean look,” Calipari said. “Doesn’t mean you have to make it, but have to get a good clean look. And we’re figuring out the best way to do that.”

One of those ways might be incorporating DeAndre Liggins or Darius Miller into crunch-time, go-to guys.

“I’ve got to get our two juniors and senior to be a bigger part of what we’re doing at the end of the games,” Calipari said. “What are you three doing to help us win, or are we sitting there saying ‘let’s hope one of these freshmen get us the win?”

Along the lines of getting leadership in the locker room, Calipari said he still doesn’t have a player who takes command after a loss and lets the team know it’s not acceptable.

“Someone has to say, this is on me. Or this is on all of us,” Calipari said. “I’m trying to get them to say it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to screw up. Just understand that when we lose, you take responsibility. Including me as the coach.”

UK will know if it succeeded against South Carolina if there’s a noticeable lack of one particular song: “Sandstorm,” which South Carolina has a propensity to play.

“The joke is, they only play it when they’re up,” Jon Hood said. “So if you stay away from Sandstorm, you’re up.”


John Calipari discusses what his team needs to do better on the road and playing South Carolina:

Calipari, part 2 on playing South Carolina:

Josh Harrellson on South Carolina and playing better on the road and down the stretch: