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December 9, 2013
Young Cats get test from experienced Boise State
John Calipari spent part of Kentucky's practice on Sunday teaching his players how to huddle at the free-throw line.
It's the sort of extreme back-to-basics lesson that's becoming the norm for Calipari, who said in the wake of the Wildcats' loss to Baylor last Friday, he's trying to impart on his players how to be good teammates.
They need to huddle at the free-throw line and to touch a teammate as he comes to the bench. These are basketball basics, Calipari said, but they seem to elude his team.
"Some of it I expected, and anytime I expect them to know something, I'm wrong," Calipari said. "I'm wrong. 'Well, they'll know this.' I am wrong."
He's been wrong about a few times about these Wildcats (7-2).
Once labeled a team with a chance to go undefeated, Kentucky this week dropped out of the Associated Press Top 10, falling to 11th headed into a difficult week that starts with Boise State's visit to Rupp Arena on Tuesday.
Still, Calipari remains convinced UK can make it right.
"Look, I haven't lost any confidence in the team," Calipari said. "It's just, I have a lot of work to do as a coach, and they have a lot of work to do changing and buying in. We're not near what we need to be."
As so often is the case with Calipari's Kentucky teams, experience plays a part in closing that gap.
In contrast to Boise State (8-0) -- which features three seniors and three juniors in its top six players -- Kentucky starts four freshmen and a sophomore. There are no juniors and seniors in the regular rotation.
That means growing pains. And last Friday's game against Baylor provided a particularly painful lesson. Leading by nine with 13 minutes to play, the Cats imploded and lost 67-62.
"This team, what they seem to do is they get it going and do it right and then they get arrogant and then they step back," Calipari said.
Whether that's the result of conditioning -- "As soon as we get tired, it's like our minds just go everywhere, scattering everywhere," guard James Young said -- or inexperience or both, it's been an issue for a Kentucky team that has struggled to put away opponents.
"Look, the way we do it is really hard," Calipari said. "The way they've always played has been really easy. Now, which way do you want to do it? The real hard way or the easy way and every chance you can revert back to see if it's still works you do? It's just how it is coaching young teams."
On Tuesday, he'll coach one against a Boise State team that's second in the nation in scoring and averages 8.2 three-pointers per game.
"We just got to play hard, just got to out-tough them, bust them a little bit," Young said. We have a height advantage, so if we use our height, I feel we'll be good."
And Kentucky -- despite folding against Baylor -- is good, Calipari said. Or it can be.
"I know they want to play together," Calipari said. "I know they want to win. I know they have that desire. I know we have the talent we need. We're just all 18- and 19-year-olds. We're really a young team."