A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keith Taylor: Unbeaten in the SEC, Cats still striving for greatness following win over Auburn

John Calipari isn’t ready to sit back and relax. As bad as he wants to empower his team, Kentucky isn’t ready to take the next step, not at this point in the season.

Even though the sixth-ranked Wildcats (15-2, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) won their fifth straight with a 92-72 win over Auburn Saturday, Calipari said the Wildcats are about a month away from making the transition from a good team to a great one.

Mychal Mulder drives the lane for a shot in Kentucky's win over Auburn Saturday at Rupp Arena (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky senior guard Mychal Mulder drives the lane for a shot in Kentucky’s win over Auburn Saturday at Rupp Arena (Bill Thiry Photo)

“I had to fight them (the players) the whole game,” Calipari said. “I don’t enjoy coaching the way I coached today. I should be a cheerleader. Obviously they are not ready (to be empowered).”

Calipari was really bothered in the second half after Auburn trimmed a double-digit lead to six mid-way through the second half, but the Wildcats used a 14-4 run to put the Tigers away for good and help ease Calipari’s concerns.

LINK: Does Bruce Pearl like John Calipari?

Credit Calipari for keeping the Wildcats composed during the decisive spree.

“I had to make a call every time down (court),” the Kentucky coach said. “You’re not going to be that team, if you have to (empower them) and if I have to do that, I will. But at some point, this team’s got to be empowered, and they are just — they are not ready.”

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 92, Auburn 72

Kentucky’s inability to play as a disciplined unit also led to sloppy play on defense. The Wildcats were whistled for 18 fouls, compared to 31 by the Tigers. Point guard De’Aaron Fox fouled out with seven minutes remaining and four players, including Isaiah Briscoe finished with two or more fouls.

“It was just undisciplined (play),” Calipari said. “The play were Isaiah Briscoe got his fourth foul, stop, we’re grinding him and he hands it off and gets his fourth foul. Why do you do that? Undisciplined.”

Read More at Keith's Blog

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

Although the Wildcats made 11 3-pointers and shot a blistering 57 percent from the field, they failed to capitalize many times at the free-throw line and finished 17-32 at the charity stripe. Calipari said those misses were also the result of not playing in the right frame of mind. Not even the players or the coaches could come to an agreement on who missed the first free throw.

“It’s contagious,” Calipari said. “We were in there arguing who missed the first couple. First of all, Isaiah Briscoe said it was Wenyen (Gabriel). I said it wasn’t Wenyen. Someone missed before Wenyen and I think it was Bam (Adebayo) and then Bam was saying it was somebody else.”

Despite the uneasiness of not having Fox down the stretch, senior guards Mychal Mulder and Dominique Hawkins kept the Wildcats from going into meltdown mode and the veteran leadership, combined with the will to win took over.

“In that time of the game, it is just time to win,” Mulder said. “It was winning time from there on out (after Fox left) and we just tried to push the lead (out) as much as we could.”

In addition to senior leadership during the most crucial part of the contest, the Wildcats became even more motivated and played with more energy during the final seven minutes.

“We had to pick up the energy because we lost a very important player,” Adebayo said. “The team came together and we played even harder because we had to make up for what we were losing defensively and offensively.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Kentucky vs. Auburn

Still, Calipari thinks the Wildcats are at least four weeks away from becoming “that team.”

“We, at times, play with unbelievable discipline, and all of a sudden we just do our own thing,” he said. “(There) are (some) things that we have to work on and I think it’s going to take time. I still think we’re a month away to be what we need this thing to be if we’re going to be one of those teams at the end, because we’re not there right now.”

As frustrated as he was Saturday, Calipari knows the path to greatness doesn’t require “brain surgery.”

“Until you get a team that plays with great discipline, they are not going to trust each other enough to get to be a special team,” Calipari said.

It’s only January and Kentucky has time on its side.

Gametracker: Kentucky at Mississippi State, 7 p.m., Tuesday. 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

Related Posts

Leave a Comment