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Keith Taylor: Calipari revives ‘tweak’ talk in hopes of igniting late-season run for Wildcats

A late-season “tweak” carried Kentucky to the national championship game two years ago, where the Wildcats lost to Connecticut in the national championship game.

Facing a similar situation with his current squad, John Calipari hopes an adjustment down the stretch will serve the same purpose starting with Tuesday’s game at Florida. Kentucky is in a two-way tie with Texas A&M for first place in the Southeastern Conference standings with two games remaining. The Wildcats (21-8, 11-5 Southeastern Conference) are coming off a 74-62 loss at Vanderbilt, prompting Calipari to make some undisclosed changes.

 Kentucky coach John Calipari hopes a "tweak" can ignite his team to a successful late season run (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky coach John Calipari hopes a “tweak” can ignite his team to a successful late season run (Bill Thiry Photo)

“We tweaked a few things and it’s not a wholesale change from what we do,” Calipari said Tuesday. “What I’m doing is something that’s going to help us whether (Derek Willis is) there or not. It’s something I probably should’ve done a long time ago, but you kind of get blinded. You start winning games and guys are doing certain things and other guys are not so you just leave it alone. But we’ll see.”

Although Calipari didn’t elaborate on what changes were in store for the last two games of the regular season, he did say the tweak is a move designed to give the players more confidence, especially the team’s post players.

Link: SEC Standings

“Demonstrated performance builds your confidence,” Calipari said. “So if they’re struggling to insert themselves, you’ve got to help them and say, ‘This is how you do this. Within what we’re doing, let’s think about this.’ That’s what tweaking is. ‘OK, guys, here’s how we’re playing. Let’s focus a little bit more on this. Or let’s focus more on this.’ It’s too late to change how we play, but there’s no reason that we can’t have a confident basketball team. That’s what we should have.”

Calipari admitted some of the changes are mental, but added, “the other part is you’re changing how they think about playing.”

“You’re changing the mentality of how they’re doing this,” he said. “That gets them, especially the guys that need it. But I’m anxious to go see (how they respond).”

At the same time, Calipari also wants to see “how good can we be?”

“We know if we don’t have everybody playing confident we’re not going to be very good,” he said. “So the question becomes how good can this team be? Now, we’ve got this week and next week and the tournament to get this thing to where we are steering up. You know, playing on the road’s not a good place to try and do it. The road in our league is the toughest place to win, of any conference in the country on the road in this league. But, it’s our next game, so let’s go.”

Willis update

Calipari doesn’t expect Derek Willis to return to the lineup Tuesday but is hopeful the junior forward will play in Kentucky’s regular-season finale against LSU Saturday at Rupp Arena. Willis didn’t have a boot on his foot prior to workouts Monday as Kentucky prepared for its matchup against the Gators.

“Let’s hope that he can play Saturday, but he’s not playing Tuesday,” Calipari said.

Wynyard not an option

For the first time this season, Calipari said Tai Wynyard likely won’t play this season.

“We’ve seen our big guys play pretty well and then we’ve seen them struggling,” Calipari said. “It’s almost like, OK, how do we get this more consistent? How do you build your mentality? You all know that comes from within. If you’re relying on someone else to do that for you, what if he’s not feeling good that day? The guy you’re counting on to pick you up? I mean, you gotta do that yourself.”

Scouting the Gators

Florida (17-12, 8-8) has lost three straight games and is coming off a 96-91 loss at LSU. Including the double-digit loss at Kentucky on Feb. 6, the Gators have suffered setbacks in five of their past seven games.

Despite the Florida’s struggles under first-year coach Mike White, the Wildcats expect a battle in Gainesville.

“They’re always tournament games (late in the year) because everybody wants to come out and beat us,” Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis said. “We have to prepare like it is and just go out there and refuse to lose; just try to play as hard as we can for 40 minutes.”

Game tracker: Kentucky at Florida, 7 p.m., Tuesday. 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

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