CRAWFORD | Kentucky edges Vandy 87-81, but Cal wants more discipline
John Calipari is glad his team is winning, but after Tuesday's 87-81 win at Vanderbilt, said it still needs to play with more discipline.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Winning at Vanderbilt wasn’t supposed to be this difficult for the No. 6-ranked University of Kentucky basketball team. But despite his team’s overwhelming edge in talent against many Southeastern Conference opponent, Wildcats’ coach John Calipari says his group is missing one thing that would prevent close games like Tuesday’s 87-81 win in Nashville.
“Discipline,” Calipari said. “I’m sitting here, it’s not about me coaching. I’ve got really good players. My job is to get them more disciplined, more focused, playing when another team’s playing a certain way. But we got talented kids now. Watching this team play, you’ve got to have fun. Like, wow, this is fun watching them. The stuff they do, as fast as they’re playing, some unbelievable plays that they make.”
But in between Malik Monk rising up or Bam Adebayo dunking over people’s heads — or on them — and De’Aaron Fox flying around, Calipari is trying to get his young team to understand that it needs to play better defense, and it needs to not always feel the need to put on a show.
The Wildcats opened Tuesday’s game on a 9-0 run, but foul-trouble plagued them all night and they couldn’t get separation from a well-drilled Vanderbilt team that attacked openings in the Kentucky defense, beat the Wildcats off the dribble and got to the rim all night.
Against a Kentucky team that lives off turnovers and fast-break points, Vanderbilt committed only seven turnovers and allowed the Wildcats just eight points off the break.The Commodores also got to the line 32 times — making 23.
“Vanderbilt head coach) Bryce (Drew) did a great job,” Calipari said. “It’s exactly the type of team – and I told the guys, more of this is on me than these kids, because I have a talented group of kids. What they don’t have is discipline and the focus they need to win when another team is disciplined. (Vanderbilt) is a disciplined team. They turned it over seven times when we pressured. They’re going to run their stuff and you cannot break down. Last night in that football, if anybody made a mistake what happened? Touchdown. You couldn’t make mistakes. We just can’t play this way right now and I told them, ‘Not your fault. This is what I have to do.’
“They run and the game’s fast, it’s all fun, but when this is a grind-it-out game and you break down on defense and – you ready? – then take a quick shot contested down at the other end and then break down again and take another quick leap and leaner, or try to dunk one when (you can) just lay it in. Just lay it in so we can win the game. We’re a ways away.”
The Wildcats also have improved to 14-2 and, for the fourth time in Calipari’s eight seasons, are off to a 4-0 start in the SEC.
Calipari liked that his team found a way to overcome 1-for-9 shooting from three-point range, but says he’s still finding answers. He said he’ll continue to give Isaac Humphries minutes in the middle to spell Bam Adebayo, but that if he’s not more productive he could turn to a smaller lineup with Wynyen Gabriel and Derek Willis on the court.
Isaiah Briscoe had a new career high with 23 points on 10 of 18 shooting in the game and added seven rebounds and five assists. The Wildcats also got 22 points from Fox and 18 from Monk, despite just 6-15 shooting from the field. Adebayo finished with 14, 10 of which came in the game’s first 10 1/2 minutes. He went 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
Kentucky shot 50.7 percent from the field.
But at the end of the night, Calipari kept returning to the “d” word.
“I mean, an exciting game, it’s just that it’s a different game for us and we need all these kind of games to show us where we got to go,” he said. “And mainly me as a coach. Again, I’m not here with veteran guys. I gotta figure out, OK, if we’re going to be playing and trying to be one of those teams, OK, you’re going to play a disciplined team, what are you going to be able to do? Can you win the game? And if you can’t your season ends.”
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