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February 18, 2013

Minus Noel, Cats searching for new identity

What's apparent is that Kentucky minus Nerlens Noel adds up to something different than what the Wildcats were a week ago.

But the variable introduced last Saturday - an 88-58 loss at Tennessee that was the Wildcats' worst in John Calipari's UK tenure - calls into question just what the sum is of Kentucky's remaining parts.

"It's obvious without Nerlens we're a little different," Calipari said Monday on the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. "Doesn't mean we're 40 points different, but we're a little different."

That means the Cats (17-8, 8-4 SEC) will have to continue to change their roles. They'll have to play differently on both ends of the court.

They'll continue defining their post-Noel identity with home games this week against Vanderbilt and Missouri.

It will take a strong team to do all that and give itself a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. It will require a team that takes coaching.

And on Monday, Calipari continued a process he started on his website Sunday afternoon, backing away from postgame comments on Saturday that he had some players who are "not real coachable."

According to The Courier-Journal, he also yelled to guard Archie Goodwin during Saturday's game, "I can't coach you!"

"During a game, on the bench, there are a lot of things I say… if a guy is not listening, is not playing rough enough, isn't coming up with 50/50 balls," Calipari said Monday. "There's a lot of things I say."

On his website Sunday, Calipari wrote "I may say publicly they are 'uncoachable,' but I refuse to believe that because I believe in these guys and I believe they can change. I say it to get them to change, to prove to themselves and others that they can do this."

What Kentucky has to do now is find a way to win without Noel, out for the remainder of this season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

"I told them after the game, I've had teams get beat up like this," Calipari said. "But I want to see how you respond and how you come back. That's the measure of who you are. It's not that this doesn't happen occasionally. I think Ohio State just got smashed by somebody. I've done this 20-something years. It's about your response. Do you take responsibility for how you're playing, and let's begin to understand how we have to play."

And clearly, Kentucky's blueprint for success has changed without Noel, who led the nation in blocked shots with 106 when he was injured last week and who averaged 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

"We're going to have to play stronger, we're going to have to cover for each other a little bit more (defensively)," Calipari said. "Because you're not going to have - we can't just let people shoot layups, which is what happened last game."

Calipari on Monday referred to the Cats with Noel as "the old team." He's still trying to figure out exactly what his new team is.

"But it's like, 'Hey guys, we're still where we want to be,'" Calipari said. "'You got bashed. Take responsibility and let's move on.'"


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