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Keith Taylor: Kentucky’s overall lack of offensive consistency is driving Calipari ‘nutty’

After watching tape on his team’s 80-74 win over Mississippi State earlier this week, John Calipari was at a loss for words after the Wildcats nearly blew a 20-point lead down the stretch.

“We’re playing pretty good – and then the last 10 minutes we gave up 30 points,” the Kentucky coach said. “Are you kidding me? You understand that’s 120 (points) if we played the basketball game that way. I mean, it’s nutty.”

Kentucky's Alex Poythress and the Wildcats play the first of two straight SEC road games Saturday at Auburn

Alex Poythress and the Wildcats play the first of two straight SEC road games Saturday at Auburn (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky senior Alex Poythress said Kentucky’s lack of defensive intensity down the stretch was a big reason the Bulldogs made things interesting down the stretch.

“We need to start defending better,” he said. “We did a great job defending until like the last eight or seven minutes. We have to hang our hats on defense, so we have to come prepared and start defending teams to win games on the defensive end.”

Calipari hopes the Wildcats (13-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) can put teams away after building a big lead and not become complacent starting with Saturday’s game at Auburn, the first of two straight conference road games.

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SEC Schedule

Kentucky won its last road game at Alabama, but couldn’t produce the same kind of performance against Mississippi State.

“We came out and got it done (at Alabama),” Kentucky junior Derek Willis said. “And in the last game, I don’t know if we went back to being comfortable or what it was. But I don’t think we had the same mindset and that’s why the game kind of dragged out.”

Although defense is an ongoing concern, Calipari also seeks better production on the offensive end of the court. The Kentucky coach is confident the Wildcats will eventually turn the corner.

“This is a team that has to really defend, but, we’ve got to execute offensively, we’ve got to score baskets,” Calipari said. “They’ll do it. They know what it’s like. They’re trying. We’ve got a bunch of great kids who are learning. Like Jamal (Murray), he’s learning how to play winning basketball. He’s learning and you see it every game. He’s getting better.”

Even though Murray has scored 20 or more points in three straight games, Calipari is seeking more consistency from his post players, especially Poythress.

After scoring a career-high 25 points against Alabama, the senior forward tallied just six against the Bulldogs. Although not a scoring threat throughout, Poythress made four crucial free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.

Poythress admitted that a lack of consistency is a concern, but tries not to get overwhelmed.

“It’s the same mindset — just try to go in there and play hard and try to get a win,” Poythress said. “As long as you’re winning games and everything like that, you really don’t worry about it as much.”

Scouting Auburn

Calipari is 8-0 against the Tigers (7-8, 1-3), who have lost three straight league games after opening the conference with an 83-77 win over Tennessee.
Although struggling, Calipari expects a tough encounter against Bruce Pearl’s squad.

“They play really loose, shoot balls (and) spread the court,” Calipari said. “They’ll beat you on the dribble. They’re pressing not as much as he (Bruce Pearl) used to, but the same baseline out. They’re switching stuff – sideline out, diamond press, pick-and-roll. Their guard (Kareem Canty), this kid, he’s just letting it go. When you’re at home – and you know they’re ready for us. It’s just how it is.”

Canty is Auburn’s leading scorer and averages 18.5 points per game. He leads the team in made 3-pointers with 54.

Hawkins update

Calipari said junior guard Dominique Hawkins was scheduled to return to practice Thursday before the team departed for Auburn.Hawkins has missed the past three games because of a sprained ankle.

“Right now we need that one guy that’s going to play,” Calipari said. “Mychal (Mulder) gave us a lift and did some good stuff, and then last game, he just wasn’t there. And now all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, who is the next?’ You need another guy. But Dom will be fine.”

Game tracker: Kentucky at Auburn, Saturday, 4 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

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One Comment

  1. Marty carrRo says:

    The edoit acts like the boys have to excell in ” every game”….not possible..move on

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