John Calipari had to push every motivational button against Arkansas Thursday night. (AP Photo)
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – John Calipari won't hang a picture of this Kentucky basketball game in the Craft Center, not unless he plans to use it as a teaching tool for the considerable faults that remain in this UK team.
Arkansas 71, Kentucky 67 – in overtime.
"Our guard play was horrendous today," Calipari said. "Everything was coach-driven today. There was not one player-driven thing today."
The coach added to the mystery of Kentucky's play by throwing a couple of his players into the headlines by saying this: "We had a couple of no shows on our team ... We took a couple of steps back."
He simply didn't identify the no-shows. So you can be certain everybody else will take a crack at it. A debate will percolate on the Internet. This should get really interesting.
Was one of them James Young, who played 29 minutes with one rebound? Should Aaron Harrison be on the list? He missed 10 of 12 shots and did not have an assist in 38 minutes. How about Julius Randle? He seemed to be dragging over the last eight minutes or so and missed nine of 15 shots. Andrew Harrison missed 10 field-goal attempts and three free throws. Threw a few mysterious lob passes.
Analyze everybody's body language in three, two, one ...
But Randle, along with Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, was sent out after the game to face the media. The twins and Young were not. Which names were on Calipari's missing persons report?
"I have no idea (which two guys Calipari meant)," Cauley-Stein said. "I don't know. I wasn't looking."
Cauley-Stein was asked if he agreed with the assessment of his coach.
"I guess," he said. "If that's what the boss says, that's what goes."
Hmmm. I guess that's a Yes.
Kentucky is now 21-7 and 11-4 in the SEC. The Wildcats can no longer catch unbeaten Florida, which has won the SEC regular season title. There are signs that this team is getting to Calipari. He even criticized Randle for not taking himself out of the game, although the job description for a head coach usually includes the ability to control substitutions.
The Wildcats could not survive sleepwalking through the first half. They did rally with 10 good minutes in the second half, but then gave up a four-point lead in the final 1:13 of regulation. They were outscored 11-7 in overtime – and never led during the five extra minutes.
They didn't guard. They kept forcing alley-oop passes that weren't there. By one unofficial count, they missed six of those plays. They had only seven assists on 27 field goals – one game after they had only five assists while beating Louisiana State in overtime. Is not moving the basketball an issue?
"Yeah," Randle said. "But we also missed a lot of easy shots around the paint."
They were awful from the foul line – missing 10 of 22 free throws on a night when Arkansas made 16 of 16.
How perturbed was Calipari by the way his team performed?
Call the roll of all the guys that he waved into the game in the first half? Jon Hood. Marcus Lee. Dominique Hawkins. Jarrod Polson.
Eleven guys played. Only two reserves scored all night. Nobody played consistently harder than the Arkansas guys were playing.
"We took 76 shots, 20 of them bad," Calipari said.
"When we get an assignment, we've got to make sure we do it," Poythress said. "There's no more excuses. It's too late for excuses.
"At this point in the year,
nobody wants to hear, ‘My bad, my fault. I shouldn't have did this. It slipped.' At this point in the season, we want to trust everybody to do what's your job,
do what you're told. If everybody does their job everything works out good."
GOOD WILLIE RETURNS – If Kentucky is going to make a serious run in March, the Wildcats will need improvement from Willie Cauley-Stein.
I'm talking about the Willie Cauley-Stein who scored 18 points against Ole Miss or 15 against Vanderbilt, not the one who failed to score against Tennessee or had one point against Texas A&M.
Cauley-Stein has work to do, but he showed a nice left-handed hook shot and did solid work on the offensive glass. He led the Wildcats with eight points in the first half and then scored their first basket after Calipari rewarded him with a second-half start.
Cauley-Stein finished the game with enthusiasm, leading Kentucky with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
SENIOR NIGHT IN ABSTENTIA – Senior Night arrives Tuesday when the Wildcats play host to Alabama. Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood will go through the ceremony.
But this seems like a good time to note three other guys who could have been going through the ceremony – Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. This would have been their senior seasons if they had stayed four years. Four years? Who stays three years any more?
Knight has started 44 games for the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 17 points and five assists. Jones has become a key contributor for a surging Houston Rockets team. He's averaging 11.5 points and 7.1 rebounds. Lamb has been parked near the end of the bench for the Orlando Magic. Lamb has only played in 33 games, averaging 3.1 points.
RANDLE RISING – Kentucky freshman Julius Randle ranks ninth in the SEC in scoring and second in rebounding. Folks who cover college basketball have noticed.
Randle received double recognition Thursday. He is one of 15 players named as a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Award, which is presented to the national player of the year by the U. S. Basketball Writers Association.
He was also named one of six finalists for the Wayman Tisdale Award. The USBWA presents that one to the nation's top freshmen.
Randle is one of four players named to both lists. The other three are Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Jabari Parker of Duke and Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis.
HOG TIED – With the win, the Razorbacks moved to 8-7 in the league. Arkansas will have to win two of its final three games to finish with a winning SEC record. Possible? Sure. The Hogs finish with Georgia and Ole Miss at home before closing the regular season at dismal Alabama.
But no program in the SEC has fallen the way that Arkansas has tumbled. When the Razorbacks joined the league more in 1992, they were neck-and-neck with Kentucky as the best program in the league. They proved it by winning the national title in 1994 and playing UCLA in the 1995 championship to prove it.
Then Nolan Richardson lost his mojo. Stan Heath took a crack and failed. So did John Pelphrey.
Get this: After winning 11 NCAA Tournament games in two seasons, Arkansas's NCAA Tournament record is 5-8 since the loss to UCLA. That's five NCAA wins in nearly two decades -- and just one since 2000.
Hard to believe. Nothing would do more to elevate the national profile of the SEC than the return of a Top 25 program in Fayetteville.
UP NEXT – Only three more regular season games for the Wildcats – at South Carolina Saturday, Alabama for the home finale and then at Florida March 8. They have only a one-game edge on Georgia for second place in the SEC.