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Wildcats move past Duke shellacking to host Southern Illinois in home opener Friday at Rupp

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

John Calipari knew his team would receive a wake-up call early in the season and wasn’t surprised by his team’s loss to No. 4 Duke earlier this week in the Champions Classic.

It was a setback the Kentucky coach kept anticipating even after posting six impressive victories in the Bahamas and a pair of exhibition wins during the past two weeks.

“I was never intoxicated or blown away by Bahamas because everybody kind of goes back,” he said. “There weren’t game plans. There weren’t teams that would grind it out and move it, move it, move it, move in on defense. And there were things that I saw. I knew then and I know now — we have a chance of being really good, but I knew even then, boy, we got a ways to go. And so that may have hurt us more than helped us. This (the loss to the Blue Devils) may have helped us more than hurt us.”

Even after reviewing the tape from a 118-84 setback to the Blue Devils, Calipari wanted the worse loss of his coaching career to sting just a little bit from top to bottom.

Reid Travis goes up for a shot in Kentucky’s loss to Duke Tuesday night in Indianapolis. The Wildcats host Southern Illinois Friday night at Rupp Arena. (Photo by Kentucky Sports Report LLC/Jeff Houchin)

“You want it to hurt,” the Kentucky coach said. “And then I want you to look in the mirror and be real, no delusion. They were a better team and they played as a team. They worked together. We worked against each other. They played harder with more of a chip, which is usually us. And I’ll even go further and say they were better coached than we were. Let’s all look at it and let’s learn and move on.”

The Kentucky coach also cautions against watching the tape are than twice.

“If anybody watched that tape three times they’re out of their minds,” he said. “Some of them shouldn’t have watched it at all. Burn the tape. Don’t ever look at that tape.”

Calipari was surprised by his team’s lack of chemistry in the opener against Duke and said the players were more concerned about their individual statistics.

“Instead of playing for each other, they were trying to get theirs,” he said. “I had one guy call me and say, ‘It looked like your guys had their hair on fire.’ I had another guy saying, ‘They were so quick. One pass and guys were – people all over them, shooting it anyway, “

The biggest lesson Calipari hopes his team learned from the opener was how to “stop the bleeding” when adversity strikes, especially during he first five minutes of play.

“They don’t know yet what that means,” he said. “I’m going to ask them, ‘Do you know what stop the bleeding means?’ Band-Aid. Hold it. I don’t think they understand some things that we’re going to have to get down. And then, like I told them, we gotta get five guys who will fight like heck and leave them in and play them as long as they can play. Find those five who will fight together and play together and leave them in and then the rest of you will sub in when they need a break.”

The second-ranked Wildcats will get a chance to regroup and put the loss to Duke behind them when Kentucky hosts Southern Illinois in its home opener Friday night. The Salukis (0-0) return all of their starters from last season.

“They’ve got inside players that can really play,” Calipari said. “They shoot the ball well. A team that can beat us if we don’t play harder than they play, we lose and we move on to the next game. At some point you (go into) every game you try to tell them and they don’t understand.”

Despite the overwhelming loss to open the season, Calipari hasn’t lost faith in his squad.

“I like this team. I like the people, the players, the way they treat each other. Now, we gotta have a little chip (on our shoulder). We gotta get hungrier,” he said. “I was calm that whole game. Matter of fact, it was really positive. I did not say much.”

Calipari responds to report

Former Kentucky player Jarred Vanderbilt and current guard Ashton Hagans were mentioned in an ESPN story which spelled out plans by agent Christian Dawkins to devise a pay-for-play scheme. Calipari wasn’t concerned by the report.

“Our administration and compliance are so thorough – doubly thorough – that I trust everything is fine,” he said. They get parents involved. I mean, they go to a point where it’s uncomfortable for me. ‘You shouldn’t have to be doing this.’ But then you say, ‘I’m glad you guys do that.’ My job here is coaching basketball, and for this right now, I’ve got to coach this team (and) just keep coaching the team. I’m not listening. I don’t care. I’m not hearing anything. My whole (mindset) is how do I coach this team and get them on the right path that they get it. Where the light bulb goes off and they’ll say, ‘Wow.’ I think it’s pretty clear that when you watch that some of the stuff we’ve got to get right.”

Gametracker: Southern Illinois at Kentucky, 7 p.m. Friday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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