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Calipari Keeping Focus on Kentucky, Not Road Atmosphere


Prior to Friday's win over Louisville, Kentucky head coach John Calipari looked at his team and told them they're no longer freshmen and vowed to not say it anymore.

"We're 10 games in, 11 games in," Calipari said. "We are not freshmen."

Whatever you want to call them, Kentucky is the most inexperienced team in the country – by far – and has not started a player this season who had played in a collegiate game prior to this year.

And now the UK rookies will get to check another item off their collegiate to-do list when they play their first true road game of the season Wednesday at LSU (8:30 p.m. on the SEC Network).

There's no doubt this will be a challenge for the Wildcats. After all, Kentucky has lost two of its past three games at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with the lone win being a two-point comeback victory by the famous 2014-15 Wildcats that never lost a regular-season game.

Additionally, it's a Southeastern Conference road game. That means UK (11-2, 1-0 SEC) will have its hands full in order come out with a victory, regardless of opponent. Only, Coach Cal isn't budging from what he does for every single game Kentucky plays – home or away – and that's to keep his focus inward.

"I'm telling you, my concern is how we're playing, not where we're playing," Calipari said. "I would play on I-95. Put two hoops up, shut the traffic down for a couple hours, let's play. Doesn't matter to me."

What does matter to Coach Cal is substituting his team's silence for communication. In the first half against Georgia, Kentucky shot just 20.7 percent and played as "selfish" as any team he says he's coached. On Monday's Paul Miller Ford John Calipari Show, Coach Cal said if a player didn't talk during Tuesday's practice he was going to run.

In a road environment, communication becomes of paramount importance. Without it, the task at hand becomes even more difficult. Heck, it's one of the main reasons the home crowd tries to be as loud as it can be.

"I'm worried about if we will talk more on defense, because if we don't talk more, then we can't get better and we're going to be stuck where we are," Coach Cal said. "Can we create shots for each other versus can I get my own shot? I'm more concerned about that kind of stuff than playing on the road, and that's why I take them away from here – we go on the road and stay a couple of days. Obviously, our last road game wasn't real good and did not perform. I'm more concerned about us, like I am normally – just how do we get better?"

UK has played three neutral-site games this season against Kansas (Chicago), Monmouth (New York) and UCLA (New Orleans). The Cats surprised many and showed glimpses of their potential by nearly taking down then-No. 4/3 Kansas at the United Center. UK dominated Monmouth at Madison Square Garden, 93-76. UK then looked absent in an eight-point loss to UCLA in The Big Easy.

Calipari said most of the time a player doesn't communicate on the court it's because they're concerned with how they're playing.

"I'm trying to get them to come in here, worry about great preparation and then just play for each other," Coach Cal said. "It's funny, guys that don't worry about offense, the ball finds them. Guys that are really concerned about offense, it just looks bad."

In LSU (9-3 0-0 SEC), UK will face a team that's been one of the top offensive clubs in the country. The Tigers have the fourth highest field-goal percentage in the country inside the arc (60.1 percent), and are shooting 38.0 percent from beyond the arc. Their adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy's numbers, ranks 23rd nationally.

However, as good as the offense has been, defense has been a struggle for first-year head coach Will Wade's group. LSU ranks 220th in adjusted defensive efficiency and has allowed 84.2 points per game in its five games against teams ranked in the top 150 of Pomeroy's rankings.

"They're playing more of an open game," Calipari said of LSU. "They post it, but they're more pick-and-roll and open the court. They're making 10 3s a game. The last five games they're over 10 3s a game. So, they're playing wide open. They're playing fast. They're scoring probably about 90 a game. And I say they play fast, they don't play as fast as you think. They'll throw it ahead, but if they don't get it there, they're more, 'Alright, let's get this in some sort of pick-and-roll and get them out of position.' "

Defensively, UK has clamped down lately around the perimeter after playing defense Calipari compared to a game of H-O-R-S-E. Following a four-game stretch in which Harvard, Monmouth, Virginia Tech and UCLA went a combined 44 of 109 (40.4 percent) from beyond the arc, Louisville and Georgia hit just 5 of their combined 46 3-point attempts (10.9 percent).

How UK defends the perimeter, including LSU star freshman point guard Tremont Waters, who is averaging a team-high 17.1 points per game and leads the SEC in both assists (6.4 per game) and steals (2.5 per game), will help decide the game.

Well, that and how UK handles its first true road atmosphere. But Calipari will stick to the on-court action.

"I imagine LSU fans are gonna be there and it's gonna be a hostile environment," Calipari said. "It'll be a great learning experience, but you won't believe this – when I watch the tape I won't have the sound on. I'm gonna watch the tape and the only thing I see is between the lines. And I'm just concerned, are we talking more? Are we sharing more? Are we playing desperate? Are we grinding it out at the end? Are we attacking to make plays for each other? You know, those kind of things."

Gilgeous-Alexander Leads UK Past Georgia in SEC Opener

A night in which No. 16/15 Kentucky seemingly couldn't make any shots didn't stop the Wildcats from trying, especially with the lead within reach against Georgia. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander changed everything with one timely 3-pointer that freed things up for everything to fall when they needed them.

The freshman guard had another big game off the bench with five of his 21 points coming down the stretch, and Kentucky added several clutch late baskets to rally past Georgia 66-61 on Sunday night in its Southeastern Conference opener.

The Wildcats (11-2, 1-0) shot a season-low 17 of 54 from the field (31.5 percent) but made needed baskets to overcome an eight-point deficit early in the second half. Gilgeous-Alexander's go-ahead 3 with 4:39 remaining set the tone for big shots that Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and then Gilgeous-Alexander followed with layups before Wenyen Gabriel's 3 with 1:08 left provided a six-point cushion.

Kentucky ended up making its final five attempts after missing its first six, a big improvement in a contest it had to play catch-up all night.

Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green (15 points) combined for three late free throws to seal the tight win that followed Friday's 29-point shellacking of archrival Louisville. Diallo finished with his first double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds as Kentucky won the boards 42-38.

Kentucky coach John Calipari still called the first half one of the most selfish efforts displayed by his young team. Besides shooting 21 percent, freshman forwards Nick Richards and PJ Washington each picked up two quick fouls and spent the rest of the half watching from the bench. The Wildcats steadily fought back but couldn't get over the hump until Gilgeous-Alexander's big shot ended up opening the inside.

Yante Maten had 17 points, Derek Ogbeide 13 and Rayshaun Hammonds 12 for the Bulldogs (9-3, 0-1), who entered having won five of six this month. They seemed to be able to answer several Kentucky charges in the second half before fading to finish 39.7 percent from the field.

After playing arguably their best game this season against Louisville, the Wildcats struggled from the field throughout before succeeding late. Gilgeous-Alexander followed up his career-best 24-point effort against Louisville with another 20-point game, hitting 12 of 13 free throws. The Cats made 27 of 38 from the line overall.


• Kentucky leads the series 125-26 and 61-5 in Lexington. UK has won 10 in a row vs. the Bulldogs
• UK held Georgia to 61 points. UK is 150-5 under Coach John Calipari when the opponent scores 63 or fewer points
• UK held Georgia to 39.7 percent from the field. UK is 6-1 this season when keeping the opponent to less than 40 percent
• After going 0 of 11 from 3-point range in the first half, Georgia opened the second stanza with two straight long balls to stretch the Bulldog lead to 33-26. Ironically, it was the only two 3-pointers that Georgia hit all night for a 9.5-percent rate
• The last time UK held an opponent to that few 3-pointers was Jan. 21, 2016, at Arkansas, when the Razorbacks made 2 of 12.
• The last time UK held an opponent to less than 10 percent from long range was Nov. 13, 2015, when Albany made 7.1 percent (1 of 14).
• UK has held its last two opponents to 5 of 46 from behind the arc
• Kentucky outrebounded Georgia 42-38. The Wildcats have tied or outrebounded the opponent in 11 of 13 games this season
• UK made 27 of 38 at the foul line, season highs in both categories.
• The Wildcats had a season-low nine turnovers. After struggling in that department earlier in the season, UK is averaging just 11.2 miscues over the last four games.
• Despite the concern about emotional letdown after playing rival Louisville, UK is 11-0 under Coach Calipari in the game immediately following the Cardinals.
• Kentucky has won 15 in a row in Rupp Arena
• Hamidou Diallo had 10 points, his seventh consecutive game in double figures. He is averaging 17.6 points per game during that stretch. Diallo also snagged 10 rebounds for his first career double-double
• Quade Green carried the offense in the first half and finished with 15 points. It is his eighth double-figure game of the season
• Wenyen Gabriel contributed six points and 10 rebounds, his third double-figure board game of the season
• The Wildcats improved to 8-1 in SEC openers under Calipari
Kentucky Blasts Rival Louisville 90-61

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and his Kentucky teammates knew they were capable of a dominant performance. Facing archrival Louisville motivated the No. 16/15 Wildcats to go out and prove it.

Gilgeous-Alexander, who was named MVP of the game by the Bluegrass Sports Commission, came off the bench to score a career-high 24 points, including 17 after halftime, PJ Washington added 16, and Kentucky used several runs to blow out rival Louisville 90-61 Friday in the annual showdown for Bluegrass supremacy. A season-high 24,228 fans were in Rupp Arena for the rout.

Seeking to regroup after last week's 83-75 loss to unranked UCLA, the Wildcats used a 20-6 run to close the first half with a 41-27 lead. Their 24-11 surge over 8:41 in the second helped built a 67-38 lead that eventually reached 32, a gap helped by 57 percent second-half shooting. Gilgeous-Alexander had a lot to do with that, especially inside.

The freshman guard from Canada shot 6 of 10 after the break to finish 9 of 16 from the field and top his previous scoring best of 15 points against Monmouth on Dec. 9. Playing at times with Washington and Quade Green (13 points), Gilgeous-Alexander registered five second-half layups alone.

Washington helped earlier with 10 points down the stretch in the first half for a halftime lead that expanded as Kentucky earned its biggest series win since a 76-46 rout in Lexington during the 1999-2000 season.

The Wildcats' mix of man and zone defenses meanwhile held Louisville (10-3) to 35 percent shooting, including 3 of 25 from long range.


• UK improved to 35-16 in the series, including 9-2 under John Calipari
• Kentucky's 90 points is the most points Louisville has allowed this season. It is the most points UK has scored vs. the Cardinals since earning a 103-89 win in 1991 in Rupp Arena
• The 29-point margin of victory was Kentucky's second largest this season and the third biggest in the history of the series, behind only the 91-57 UK victory in the 1947-48 season and the 76-46 Kentucky win in 1999-2000
• With Gilgeous-Alexander leading the way, the Wildcats outscored Louisville's bench 35-13
• Green tied career highs with three 3-pointers and five assists
• In addition to his career-high 24 points, Gilgeous-Alexander added five rebounds and four assists
• Hamidou Diallo reached double figures for the sixth straight game with 14 points






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