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January 3, 2014

'Camp Cal' gives Cats time to iron out issues

A win against rival Louisville was scarcely in his rearview mirror, and already John Calipari had practically ceased celebrating.

Barely a half hour after his Kentucky basketball team had dispatched the Cardinals, Calipari already was nitpicking, finding ways keep his Wildcats from getting fat and happy with their first win in four tries this season against a ranked opponent.

"Well, we were 3 for 14 from the three point line and we shot 53 percent from the free-throw line, and we gave them a chance when we were up 10 to still come back and beat us on some of the stuff we did," Calipari said. "We have a long way to go."

But now, No. 15 Kentucky (10-3) has some time to get there.

The Cats won't play again until next Wednesday, when they host Mississippi State at Rupp Arena. That'll be 10 days removed from the Louisville win, and UK planned to spend the interim in "Camp Cal," the coach's well-known, basketball-intensive approach to the semester break.

Since 2000-01, Calipari's teams have averaged a 13.5-game winning streak starting during "Camp Cal." Last seasons' two-game streak was the shortest in the span. The longest was a school-record 27-game streak at Memphis in 2009-09.

Calipari's Kentucky teams have won nine, five, 22 and two straight after "Camp Cal."

"We'll be (practicing) three times a day until we play again," Calipari said. "We've got to become a team. We have so many things we've got to work on."

The Wildcats seemed to fix a flaw or two against Louisville. Effort wasn't an issue, as it often had been during the season's first 12 games. Neither was body language. The Cats scarcely slumped their shoulders or touched their hands to their heads even as the Cards made runs in both halves.

"They're helping each other with that," Calipari said on his call-in radio show this week. "One, I'm just taking guys out. If they hang their head or your shoulders droop, you're out. But the second thing is, they're talking to other during the game about it. And they'll just say, 'Body language. Come on, now.'"

Still, there's plenty to improve.

On his call-in radio show this week, Calipari said he wants the Cats to focus on getting rid of the ball more quickly and on spacing offensively. He wants his team to improve as a "grind-it-out" offense. Defensively, he wants more ball pressure, wants players bouncing more off the ball and wants to increase turnovers forced by about two per game.

And then there's free-throw shooting.

The Cats are shooting 66.5 percent from the foul line, which ranks 11th in the Southeastern Conference and 257th in Division I basketball. Point guard Andrew Harrison, the Wildcats' primary ballhandler, is shooting a respectable 71.1 percent from the line but went 6 of 12 against Louisville.

Asked how many free throws he'd shoot over the break, Harrison mimed counting on his fingers, pretended to lose count and said, "Thousands."

"Camp Cal" offers an opportunity to work on that and more.

With no class in session, there's no restriction on how long or how often Kentucky can practice on any given day. And with no games until next week, the Cats can focus on whatever issues Calipari pinpoints without worrying about game preparation.

"It'll be extremely important, just because we don't get a lot of time (during the season), unless you come in late at night, to work on your skills," sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein said. "Having skills workout and then a practice, and then maybe like a weights (workout). It's just another opportunity for you to get better."

The improvement seems to have started already. Kentucky practiced on Sunday, about 24 hours after being Louisville, and there was "a spirit in the building that you could tell they were proud of themselves," Calipari said on his radio show.

"This team, we're getting better," Calipari said on his radio show. "We just need this time to really define what we're gonna be as a team."

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