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January 13, 2014
Cats travel to Arkansas focused on improvement
Kentucky's players returned home after a win at Vanderbilt thinking everything was fine.
It wasn't. Not for their coach.
"I kind of hit them in the mouth (with the truth)," John Calipari said. "I think they were all, like, stunned."
Calipari didn't like the way they failed to put the Commodores away in a 71-62 win. He didn't like that his team was content with a win that wasn't them at their best.
Calipari's reality check figuratively slapped "everybody" on the team, he said.
"I'm trying to get these guys excited about winning and excited about us getting better," Calipari said.
No. 13 Kentucky has another chance to do that Tuesday when it plays at Arkansas, where Calipari's UK teams are 0-2.
The Razorbacks figure to employ their frenetic style of play on the Wildcats -- "Our defense is geared toward not letting teams do what they want to do," coach Mike Anderson said -- hoping to pressure the ball (Arkansas ranks sixth nationally in creating turnovers) and attack the basket (they make 53 percent of their two-pointers).
Arkansas can ill afford to let Kentucky play a half-court game, Anderson said, given the size disparity between the two teams. So the Hogs will try to turn Tuesday into "a 94-foot game," he said.
"You have to have tough, strong-willed players," Calipari said. "If you're timid in any way, they overrun you."
The Razorbacks had a 23-game home winning streak snapped last week in a two-point overtime loss to Florida.
"They're used to playing close games," freshman center Dakari Johnson said. "We just got to go in with the mindset that we really want to compete."
Competing, Calipari said, is the most crucial component for this team. He wants this group to be the best it can be, and that won't be judged by margins of victory or defeat.
Instead, it's the work his teams put into it. He told stories of former players staying in the gym late or organizing early-morning workout sessions.
So far, this team doesn't have enough of that.
And there's only so much he can do to change it.
"You can encourage it, but that's the best you can do," Calipari said. "If it comes from them, they're inspired."
So he wants to see his players inspired off the court and focused on it. He wants them "committed" and "driven" to succeed. He wants that mentality to bleed over onto the court -- starting, preferably, on Tuesday.
"Guys got to be more invested in this," Calipari said. "And they're beginning to be."