LEXINGTON — John Calipari is looking for a few good players.
“I’m looking for five fighters, battlers that will come in and play confident,” he said. “(You) can’t play confidently if you’re getting hit in the head. Now, if you’re hitting somebody in the head, you’ll be confident. If you’re taking all the shots instead of giving shots, you’re not going to be confident. We got kind of got worked there a little bit. I mean, pushed around, shoved around. (You’ve) got to fight back.”
Calipari echoed the sense of urgency following the Wildcats’ 85-65 loss to Alabama earlier this week. The setback — the first in Southeastern Conference play for Calipari’s squad — ended the team’s eight-game winning streak over the Crimson Tide. Kentucky fell to 4-7 overall and 3-1 in the league going into Saturday’s game at Auburn. Calipari is hopeful the contest was a “knock-off” game.
“Alabama’s good (and) they deserved to do what they did to us,” Calipari said. “They made open shots. They were physical going to the basket. So, not only did they get that, they were getting plays at the rim. We were getting back on the left and right. ... this may be one you burn the tape, don’t even look at it. My hope is this isn’t who they are. This is a knock-off.”
Although a rare down year for the Wildcats, teams are still savoring a victory over Kentucky.
“Kentucky is a little bit down this year but they’re still Kentucky,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “I mean they’ve got pros on that team that our guys went head-to-head with and guarded.”
Kentucky guard Dontaie Allen said the Crimson Tide deserved to win the game but said the Wildcats can’t dwell on the double-digit setback.
“It was a butt-whooping for sure,” Allen said. “It’s going to be something that we either just go look at film or it’s definitely going to be an adjustment. Everybody just has to stay together, and I preach to everybody on the team to just stay as one because our story is not over.”
A point of emphasis this week has been defense, especially on the perimeter. Alabama sank 14 3-pointers against the Wildcats, including 10 in the first half that set the tone for the Crimson Tide.
“We just gotta play defense and tonight we let up a little bit on defense,” Kentucky guard Devin Askew said. “We’re gonna go back to practice and keep working to get better.”
Another issue was the team’s assist-to-turnover ratio. The Wildcats committed 19 turnovers and dished out just three assists, a stark contrast from the team’s previous three games. Alabama scored 29 points off Kentucky’s miscues.
“We’re gonna get back into the gym and keep working to get better,” Askew said. “This is not where our story ends. We have a long journey, and this is still part of the beginning so we’re gonna keep moving and keep moving forward after this one.”
As Calipari knows, the window for improvement is dwindling on a weekly basis.
“This league, it’s not going to get easier,” he said.