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Keith Taylor: Calipari not in panic mode, sees a UK breakthrough on the horizon

Kentucky coach John Calipari isn’t worried about his struggling Wildcats.

“I’m not panicked in any way,” Calipari said Monday during the Southeastern Conference teleconference. “I knew going into the season this wasn’t last year’s team. I’ve said all along: We’re one of those teams, but we’re not that good. I mean, we’re good, but we’re not like we were a year ago.”

 Kentucky coach John Calipari thinks the Wildcats will break through eventually (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky coach John Calipari thinks the Wildcats will break through eventually (Bill Thiry Photo)

As Calipari and his veteran players know, beating Kentucky is a big deal and an even bigger achievement for teams playing on their own home court.

Three of Kentucky’s four losses have been away from Lexington, while the other took place on a neutral court. The Wildcats (13-4, 3-2 Southeastern Conference), play their fourth road game in five games Thursday at Arkansas.

“Every road game for us is a Super Bowl,” Calipari said. “And the guys that have been here know it (and) the young guys are finding that out. But it’s a process.”

SEC Standings

The process has been slowed by the underachievement of his post players. Freshman center Skal Labissiere, counted on to filled the role vacated by Karl-Anthony Towns, hasn’t scored double figures in eight games but showed signs of emerging from the slump at Auburn. Labissiere tallied four points, had a block and grabbed two rebounds against the Tigers.

“He’s slowly coming back to where he can give us minutes,” Calipari said. “He has a big presence, but we gotta see: What are the max minutes he can go right now? Because I don’t want to throw him to the wolves like we did early. It just didn’t work. Now he’s playing better and what’s the max minutes we can go with him?”

In addition to Labissiere, Calipari said the Wildcats, who dropped to No. 23 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, are “in the same boat” as other ranked teams across the nation.

“We’re still trying to figure it out,” he said. “You don’t have a whole lot of margin for error. You’re trying to really get guys to settle into roles and play in a way that’s going to help our team win, yet have the competitive spirit that you’re going after the guy you’re guarding.

SEC Schedule

“Like, you and him are in a battle as much as you’re in a battle with our team and their team. So we’ve got things to figure out: getting guys more consistent and what does that mean. How do we do that? Or if they’re not capable of that, how do we play to win the game anyway?”

Although Kentucky has lost two of its first five conference games, Calipari sees a silver lining on the horizon and compared his current squad to the 2013-14 team that struggled in the SEC before a late surge carried the Wildcats to the national championship game.

“We’ll break through at some point,” he said. “I mean, I remember the team in ’13-14 – oh, my gosh, we almost ran out of runway. And we got the plane down and then we got in the NCAA Tournament and we went to the final game and had a chance to win the national title. So is this team where that team was? Well, some of it are the same issues — winning time, consistency of play (and) toughness when we needed it.
All stuff that we had to fight through.”

Hawkins update

Calipari said Monday morning that junior guard Dominique Hawkins was expected to return to practice after missing the past four games because of an ankle injury, but was held out as a precautionary measure.

Game tracker: Kentucky at Arkansas, Thursday, 7 p.m. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM, WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports writer who covers University of Kentucky athletics for KyForward.com You can follow him on twitter @keithtaylor21

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