By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky has won nine straight games, including eight straight in Southeastern Conference play. The Cats are climbing higher in the national rankings weekly and edging closer to a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Three times in SEC play they have held an opponent under 50 points, including Tuesday night’s win over South Carolina.
A few weeks ago Kentucky coach John Calipari said his team was about “halfway up the mountain.” With the recent success, has the team climbed higher on that mountain?
“We need Nick (Richards). Nick has to give us 15 to 20 minutes a game. He’s got to be playing. It has nothing to do with jump hooks or shots. I like that because it makes him smile, but get in there and fight like crazy and rebound and block shots and fly up and down this court. Let us throw you lobs. There’s no one in the game of college basketball like him, but he’s got to go perform,” Calipari said.
Richards had four points and four rebounds in 11 minutes Tuesday. Earlier this season he had four blocks in nine minutes against Kansas. But he’s not been consistent with his energy.
“The second thing, that jump hook, to be honest, you got to fight before you catch it. Fight, fight, fight. It’s unstoppable. But if you catch it at 12 feet because you let the guy push you away or you weren’t moving your feet, you can’t make that shot,” Calipari said about Richards.
“Your job is, forget about anything else, I got to catch it close. Coaches tell me if I catch it close, shoot it. Don’t bounce it, just shoot. E.J (Montgomery)., I’m happy for him. Every day in practice going against Nick, and E.J. and P.J. 25-12, don’t worry about it, we’ll play a zone, you don’t have to guard anybody. Here you got to get better.”
By now, Calipari had really warmed up about climbing the mountain to get a national championship.
“What I’m hoping is by the end of the year when you look at Keldon (Johnson), you say, ‘Wow, how much better is he?’ Tyler (Herro). How about Ashton (Hagans)? How about Jemarl Baker playing today, making shots, how he defends? How about Immanuel (Quickley), E.J., Nick?
“P.J. (Washington) is not the same player as he was at the beginning of the year or last year. More assists than turnovers. Last year he had one assist every two turnovers. He’s a different player.
“That’s what we’re looking to do. Let’s get better. Let’s get more consistent. Let’s play 40 minutes. Let’s use each of those games to learn about our team. Let the results take for themselves. You all got mad. Seton Hall, act like you won. I needed them in a good frame of mind. I didn’t need them panicked because you guys are saying the season is over. We’re getting better. Cal, we don’t have moral victories. We’re Kentucky. What? It wasn’t about that. It was about getting them in the right frame of mind.”
Wait. There was a more to come still.
“Let me say this. We win a game like Florida, you know what I said to them? You know that ball that Tyler eaks in and rolled around the rim, that layup, then the corner jumper that Keldon made that went bang, bang, bang, bang, went in? We don’t make those, we probably lose the game. Should we feel any different about our performance, that we’re getting better? No,” Calipari said.
“I’ve got to keep these guys in the right frame of mind, which I told them today: My job now is hungry yet humble. We don’t need anybody arrogant right now. We need to be humble and we need to be hungry in what we’re trying to do.”