Cal Taking Slow Starts Head on Even after Strong Finish
John Calipari isn’t putting his head in the sand. He knows Kentucky has to get out of the gates better.
“We have got to figure out how we start games,” Calipari said. “It’s getting ridiculous.”
For the second game in a row, UK fell behind by double digits within the game’s first five minutes. This time – days after Texas A&M raced out to a 10-0 lead – Vanderbilt was up 16-4 at the 15:12 mark of the first half. Coach Cal didn’t need to look at the tape to know what the issues were.
“We lose a guy on a pin-down to open a game for a 3,” Calipari said. “We have a simple interchange and our big guy, we’re telling him: That guy drives. Do not let him shoot. Let him shoot and he makes another 3. They had 14 points in the first half in transition and we weren’t getting any. They were running back. They weren’t really trying to offensive rebound. They shot it and ran back to make sure we didn’t get baskets, and guess what, we didn’t.”
The early game issues – myriad though they were – weren’t too much for Kentucky to overcome. Once again, No. 18 Kentucky (12-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) was able to dig out of an early hole for a victory, this time downing Vanderbilt (9-6, 0-3 SEC) Saturday evening in Rupp Arena, 56-47.
After Vanderbilt made eight of its first 11 field goals – including 5 of 6 from 3-point range – and scored 22 points in the game’s first eight-and-a-half minutes, the Cats locked down. UK held the Commodores to 9-of-36 shooting – 2 of 19 from 3 – and allowed just 25 points over the final 31-plus minutes.
“I think we gave a couple shots to shooters that we didn’t want to give,” said Ashton Hagans, who continued his breakout with 15 points, four assists, four rebounds and three steals. “Second half, we made them put the ball on the floor and make plays and I think that helped us a lot.”
The contrast was plain to see.
“We sustained effort,” Calipari said. “We helped each other. We were communicating pretty good. We got into their legs a little bit by the pressing.”
On one hand, it’s encouraging that Kentucky has been unfazed by deficits in back-to-back SEC games. Considering UK will have to overcome adversity to reach its goals in March, that’s a positive. On the other, the issues that are causing those deficits must be fixed.
“It’s good that we can come back from a deficit,” Immanuel Quickley said. “We don’t want to have to come back. We want to start the game off strong, but if need be—like myself, I bring energy off the bench on defense and then offense making shots. Just do what you gotta do to get wins.”
Twice this week, Kentucky has done just that. That’s easier said than done in the SEC.
“Today, Alabama lost at home,” Calipari said. “Florida lost at home. Mississippi State lost at home. Someone else lost at home. Arkansas lost at home. We didn’t lose at home. It looked ugly early, but now we move on to Georgia.”