By LARRY VAUGHT
It sound so simple, yet it is a message that Kentucky coach John Calipari has to keep telling his team.
“I think one of the main things Cal said before the game (against Alabama Saturday) was just go out there and try to play harder than the guy on the other side. That’s gotta be the main goal when you’re going out there, then you can have fun,” Kentucky sophomore Wenyen Gabriel said Monday.
“So we were just out there, we were playing hard and we started winning the game. It just felt good to be up and the end of the game, we fought through, we won the game and then after in the locker room just that feeling of a win really changed the morale of the team.”
Kentucky had lost four straight games before beating Alabama. Tonight the Cats play at Arkansas, a team that lost just once at home this year and has rebounded from an 0-3 SEC start to now sit at 8-6.
Gabriel said the losing streak was weighing on the players.
“We haven’t been through that type of adversity, especially as a group. After every loss, you could feel that even in the locker room, the energy in the air. Those losses hurt and I feel like that bonded us together even more, making us more prepared for March,” Gabriel said.
Freshman Nick Richards believes players are trusting each other more, something Calipari said had to happen for the team to improve.
“We’ve had a couple meetings about talking to each other and we’re hanging out more with each other off the court, so you can see that is really helping us on the court,” Richards said. “It actually helps us build chemistry with each other. We can ask each other what we like to do on the court, what we don’t like to do on the court and each guy will know what this guy’s about to do, what the other person’s about to do. It’s actually really helping us.”
The players have also been spending extra time in the gym, something else Calipari had been wanting to see happen. That has been inspired by the seven SEC losses.
“We just want to keep getting better because at the end of the day it’s about March and that’s what we’re getting ready for,” Gabriel said. “When guys step up and follow through with what’s being asked of them, the trust definitely builds up. You get more confidence in your teammates, more confidence in the coach and at the end of the day you get more confidence in yourself.”