Monday Morning Roundup: Emotions Have Settled, The Cats Need You

02/17/2013 11:01 PM

Here’s what you may have missed this weekend while you were finally taking down those Christmas lights…

Calipari Backs Off Postgame Criticism

Following his most lopsided loss since his first season as a head coach, John Calipari met with the media and eviscerated his team, saying some players were uncoachable and that the Cats deserved to lose by 50. The frustration started building in Friday’s pregame press conference in Lexington when Cal chastised his team for being selfish following a practice session that he would later call the worst of the season. The verbal lashing was a side of Calipari that we haven’t seen yet at Kentucky and seemed to officially signal a team in complete chaos and disarray. Until Sunday, that is.

On his official site, Calipari wrote a post titled “I believe in this team and its fight”, which echoed much of what the UK coach was saying two years ago when a team led by freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones was struggling through conference play. It was as much rationalizing the struggles of a freshman team that has been forced to play without its starting point guard and center as it was another public challenge for his team to fight and finally show they can be more. Calipari again put the pressure on himself, saying it’s his job to get them to respond, but it’s fair to wonder if this team has that fight in them.

The biggest problem this season hasn’t been rebounding or offensive efficiency or turnovers, though all have been issues at various points. This team has been plagued by a personality problem that’s left them on their heels in almost every game this season. Aside from the Maryland, Vanderbilt and Auburn games, the Cats have not been able to punch back when challenged. I’m not sure how a team changes that and Calipari may not either. At this point, he’s tried nearly everything from lineup changes to public challenges to new offensive and defensive looks. But it was clear on Sunday that the coach isn’t done fighting yet and it’s now just up to the team to follow his lead.

Ryan Harrow Is Completely Lost

The most emphatic of those lineup changes came Saturday in Knoxville when Alex Poythres and Ryan Harrow were banished to the bench at the start of the game, in favor of a lineup of Jarrod Polson, Julius Mays, Archie Goodwin, Kyle Wiltjer and Willie Cauley-Stein. Poythress, whose been up and down all year, seemed to be in Cal’s good graces just a week ago when the coach said several times that he was starting to change his habits for the better. Harrow, on the other hand, was clearly spiraling into irrelevance in the last two games, combining for only two assists and going scoreless against Florida. And even worse, the benching didn’t seem to wake him up.

Against the Vols, the sophomore point guard’s struggles continued as he finished the game with not a single number left on the stat sheet except for one turnover and five fouls, giving him averages of 0 points, .5 assists, .5 rebounds and 1.5 turnovers in the last two games. In those two contests, he played 18 and 19 minutes – his fewest since he played 18 against Baylor in his second game back from the flu. He’s become a complete non-factor at this point and, even worse, as his coach’s confidence in him has waned, Harrow’s confidence in himself has seemed to exponentially decrease.

Players that respond to benching are ones that are competitive and have the mental toughness to respond to their coach’s challenge. That’s not Harrow and it’s never really been. When he transferred from NC State, the whispers were that he couldn’t handle the pressure and criticisms that came with playing point guard at a major program. There’s no place on Earth where he’ll be challenged more both on the court and off of it than at Kentucky. He has to figure out how to get his head back on straight and he has to do it quickly because his teammates need him. They simply cannot survive without him. My guess is that he’s Calipari’s top project this week.

Willie Cauley-Stein Fires Up The Fans

As if things weren’t bad enough Saturday in Knoxville, the fire was fanned shortly afterward when freshman Willie Cauley-Stein, who fouled out with 2 points and 2 rebounds, sent out a Tweet that’s positivity got lost in a jab at frustrated fans. Cauley-Stein wrote “We have really good fake fans!! For all the real ones out there please stay behind us we can still turn this around #havefaith”, which obviously did nothing to quell the frustrations of those already vocalizing them online.

Whether the freshman center had a fair point or not, turning your frustration on the fans is never productive. It just simply never ends well. Cauley-Stein, who is as intelligent and perceptive as any UK freshman Calipari has coached, followed it up with a message about loving UK fans who are supporting the team despite the embarrassing loss. And, as is the case with anything, as the time has passed since Saturday, so has the emotion that flared up Saturday night.

But, if you ignore the first part of Cauley-Stein’s original Tweet, there’s something for fans to rally behind. If this team believes that it can still get things headed in the right direction (possibly because they got the harshest wakeup call of all in Knoxville), then all may not be lost. Cauley-Stein has been as passionate on the court as any player on the team this season and even though it was sometimes misguided and the shots weren’t falling, he seemed to recognize he had big shoes to fill with Nerlens Noel out.

You Are More Important Then Ever

Along that same notion, Wednesday night’s game against Vanderbilt is a big one and not just for UK’s NCAA Tournament hopes. The Cats will return to the Rupp Arena floor for the first time since being humiliated by Tennessee and it’s probably not a stretch to think that they’re probably expecting a frustrated crowd who will expect them to come out strong. And that’s why you’ve become as important as you’ve ever been. This team needs you.

Forget about what happened in Knoxville. Forget that Nerlens Noel is out. Forget about every heartbreaking loss at home this season and every bad offensive possession. When the team takes the floor, give them everything you have. This team has seemed to have an issue with believing in itself so far this season and it’s perfectly evident when they take the floor.

John Calipari said Sunday that he believes in them and that Saturday is over. Everyone in Rupp Arena needs to do the same thing. If they’re expecting an anxious crowd, give them the opposite. Give them the type of raucous support that you’d give a team that was returning from a 30-point win over Tennesssee. It may not matter with a veteran team or a tight group that’s mentally tough. But for a team that’s young, without it’s best player and now facing as much adversity as ever, showing them that you believe can make more of a difference than you may even imagine.

Big Weekend In Houston For Former Cats (and their H.S. teammates)

The NBA All-Star game closed out a big weekend for former Cats in Houston on Sunday night. The festivities got started with Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist showing their stuff in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, with Knight’s second-half back-and-forth with MKG’s high school teammate, Kyrie Irving, who also won the three-point contest, stealing the show. It continued with Eric Bledsoe in the Slam Dunk Contest, though he may have been shorted, and with Terrence Jones assisting his high school teammate Terrence Ross in the contest. UK fan Josh Hutcherson even popped up in the celebrity game. It’s probably the most fun all-star event off all the major sports and the Kentucky flavor is sure to continue next season as more Cats enter the NBA.

Ashley Judd Is About To Challenge Mitch McConnell

UK fan Ashley Judd continues to inch closer toward a run for the U.S. Senate and, at this point, she’s believed to be pretty much in the race. Preliminary polls have her trailing Mitch McConnell 49% to 40% and there are already tons of interesting side storylines brewing should she enter the race. You can keep up with the news by following Ryan Alessi and the Pure Politics team (I’ll be making my Pure Politics debut this week to discuss it), but there’s no doubt that should Judd enter, the reaction of the UK fanbase will be very interesting to follow.

Harlem Shake

I’m not sure I understand the whole Harlem Shake phenomenon, partially because it doesn’t seem to actually involve the Harlem Shake, but it hit Knoxville Saturday during the UK-UT game. And Tobias Harris was involved.

I know. It makes the game that much worse. This can never happen again.

Be sure to watch KSTV this week as we recap the Tennessee game, look ahead to Vanderbilt and discuss UK’s bracket status with CBS’ Jerry Palm.


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