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Calipari wants Wildcats to regain focus, trust each other going into showdown with Arkansas

By Keith Taylor
KyForward senior sports writer

The daily grind of “Camp Cal” is starting to get to Kentucky. At one point during practice Thursday, Wildcats coach John Calipari noticed a change in his team’s demeanor and changed the course of his team’s workout.

“We started slow and got going, then they kind of lost focus a little bit,” the Kentucky coach said. “I told them (Friday) ‘you’ve got come in here every day focused on what what we’re trying to do as a team.”

Kentucky guard Malik Monk slams home the ball in UK's win over Texas A&M earlier this week at Rupp Arena (Tammie Brown Photo)

Kentucky guard Malik Monk slams home the ball in UK’s win over Texas A&M earlier this week at Rupp Arena (Tammie Brown Photo)

Kentucky freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel said the breakdown began toward the end of practice. The sixth-ranked Wildcats concluded the final 15-20 minutes of the workout with a conditioning session.

“By the end of practice we started breaking down a little bit,” he said. “Camp Cal has been getting at us. I think it was just some freshman things and we lost focus a little bit, so Cal had to bring our focus back with conditioning.”

Calipari hopes his team got the message in time for Saturday’s Southeastern Conference encounter against Arkansas. Kentucky (12-2, 2-0 SEC) is coming off its best performance of the season in a 100-58 rout of Texas A&M Tuesday at Rupp Arena. Calipari said the Wildcats are becoming “more consistent” and he’s giving the the team “one way to do stuff” in an effort to improve overall team confidence.

“What we’re trying to teach is trust,” Calipari said. “Everybody on this team has got to trust their teammates are going to do their job so I can do mine. Basically that’s what we’re doing.”

Kentucky sophomore Isaac Humphries said the Wildcats don’t have a trust issue off the court, but said on the court, the team is striving to reach the same level of confidence.

“Sometimes we get a little lost on the court,” Humphries said. “We’re all very young. We’re all just trying to figure that out. I mean, it’s still, what is it Jan. 6? We’re just trying to figure all of that out. But, yeah he does preach the trust. We’ve gotta try and work on that on the court. We are all fine off the court.”

Read More at Keith's Blog

Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

The Razorbacks are off to a 12-2 start and have won three conference road games dating back to last season. During its last visit to Lexington two years ago, Arkansas, the last SEC team to beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena, rallied for a 71-67 overtime win over the Wildcats.

“They went up on us by double figures, but we kind of weathered the storm,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said earlier this week. “We just did a good job of hanging around and hanging around. Before you know it, the game got into overtime and we found a way to make some plays in the end.”

Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk, a graduate of Bentonville High School in Arkansas, is the state’s reigning Mr. Basketball and will face the Razorbacks for the first time in his collegiate career. Calipari hasn’t discussed the contest with Monk but plans to have a chat with his leading scorer before tipoff.

“He and I haven’t talked about it,” Calipari said. “When he gets too hyped he’s not at his best. I thought when he gets too hyped he doesn’t shoot it as well, mind starts racing a little bit. He’s not, you know, the calm, athletic, attack player he needs to be when he’s at his best. He and I will talk about it before the game, but right now it hasn’t been discussed.”

Anderson, a longtime assistant coach under former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, was part of the great rivalry games between the two teams in the 1990s when both programs were considered the among the top elite teams in the country. Kentucky has maintained its standing but the Razorbacks slacked off before Anderson’s arrival six years ago helped revive the competitive series between the two league foes.

The Arkansas coach hopes Saturday’s contest is reminiscent of past battles between the two programs.

“It’s Arkansas versus Kentucky,” he said. “It’s a big game and we’ve had a lot of great games with them and hopefully this will be one as well.”

Calipari agreed.

“It should be another good ballgame for us – another hard game for us,” he said.

Gametracker: Arkansas at Kentucky, 8:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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