UK coach John Calipari still looking for 40-minute effort following 70-62 win over Troy

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Hamidou Diallo goes up for a shot in Kentucky’s 70-62 win over Troy Monday night at Rupp Arena. Diallo finished with eight points and 10 rebounds. (UK Athletics Photo)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

It was a tale of two halves for Kentucky in its 70-62 win over Troy Monday night.

Yearning for a complete game from his eighth-ranked Wildcats, John Calipari was all smiles as Kentucky scored a season-high 41 points in the opening half and built a lead that reached 21 points three times early in the second half.

“I thought the first half for 20 minutes, man, I thought we were good,” Calipari said. “We had 20 minutes, we were really good. And what I’ve said is, we probably can play about 25 minutes right now. At some point, we’re going to have to get to play 40 minutes of basketball. But we just have breakdown after breakdown as soon as we get a little fatigued and the game gets going a little bit and the other team starts grinding. But it’s expected when you’re coaching young guys.”

A lack of focus down the stretch allowed the Trojans to narrow the gap down the stretch as Kentucky not only struggled to contain Troy but made just one of its last 10 shots and didn’t make a field goal in the final 2:46. Calipari blamed the late struggles on a lack of execution.

“This is a freshman team,” Calipari said. “It’s the kind of stuff they do. And I told them I’m going to have to teach them how to win and they have to listen, when we’re in situations, every possession still matters. They don’t, they don’t see that yet. But they will.”

Most of the mental lapses came on the defensive end. Instead of making things difficult for Troy with a big lead, the Wildcats quickly reverted.

“You just don’t have letdowns when you’re up 21 and you’re ready to bury somebody and you just start acting like it doesn’t matter anymore,” Calipari said. “That’s that old AAU high school stuff. And this thing you get on a run going the wrong way all of a sudden you look forward you can’t make a basket, you can’t — I’ve been in this 30 years. So I’ve got to get through to them.”

Calipari isn’t sure what it will take for the Wildcats to put together a complete game but said lack of practice time has played a role in his team’s inability to turn a blowout into a complete rout.

“We’re just not ready to play 40 minutes because they will revert,” Calipari said. “They let go. They go back to their old ways. And that’s the fight. Whether it’s going to take a loss to a team that we should beat, and then they all get together and say, we got to stop. I don’t know. You’re saying that we’re looking at it like when there’s a dry spell, someone has to step up and either make a basket, you ready for this, or get fouled, you can’t throw your body in there and act like they’re going to bail you out. Or it’s got to be a shot we can rebound.”

Although the offensive and defensive lapses are still occurring, Troy coach Phil Cunningham said Kentucky’s size overshadowed any weaknesses on both sides of the floor.

“Those bigs were good tonight,” Cunningham said. “They set the tone early in the game, creating some opportunities on second shots. … They overwhelmed us with size.”

One of those post players — Wenyen Gabriel — provided a spark for the Wildcats off the bench. Gabriel finished with a season-high 12 points and grabbed six rebounds. Like Calipari, Gabriel said the Wildcats struggled down the stretch but can improve based on the first-half showing.

“We lost our energy and our focus,” he said. “It disappeared (but the first 20 minutes) is something that we can build off of. The second wasn’t good and we’re going to hear about that in practice tomorrow.”

The players heard plenty from Calipari in the second half against the Trojans.

“He was louder than he was in the Kansas game,” Gabriel said. “He’s just challenging us to be good. We had our moments last year, too, but we didn’t start picking up until toward tournament time. That’s what happens when you have a lot of freshmen out there.”

Although the Cats are surviving and winning on talent alone, Calipari’s top task is teaching his team how to keep the pressure on opponents even with a big lead.

“I got to teach them how to win,” he said. “And if that game were closer we lose the game.”

Feast week: The Wildcats will play Indiana Fort Wayne Wednesday before celebrating Thanksgiving Thursday. Kentucky will host University of Illinois-Chicago Sunday to conclude a span of three games in a seven-day period.

Gametracker: Fort Wayne at Kentucky, Wednesday, 8 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM WBUL, Lexington.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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