John Calipari isn’t happy with Kentucky’s effort on the boards.
He didn’t specifically say anything to the No. 3 Wildcats about their rebounding during weekend practices. But by the time players finished running, Calipari had gotten his message across.
The Wildcats were pushed around in their 72-69 season-opening victory over Maryland. The Terrapins outrebounded Kentucky 54-38 and had 28 on the offensive end. That’s not supposed to happen against Kentucky’s vaunted frontcourt featuring 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein and 6-10 Nerlens Noel.
Calipari doesn’t want it to happen again. Neither does Cauley-Stein, who said he ”doesn’t want to do anything” but rebound after the extra running.
Kentucky plays No. 8 Duke on Tuesday night in Atlanta. It’s the first meeting between the storied programs since the Blue Devils’ 95-92 overtime win in 2001.
”My whole game is to go get boards,” Cauley-Stein said Monday. ”Like, that’s my whole plan. … After all the running we’ve had to do, my sole purpose is trying to go get boards.”
The freshman center emphasized that Calipari’s drills weren’t conducted in anger.
”He wasn’t mad,” Cauley-Stein said. ”He was like, well, you’ve got to do it. It’s a learning experience. Nobody likes to run, so you’ve got to have some kind of punishment. He had a smile on his face.”
Calipari said he had been too busy preparing his young squad in other areas to concentrate on rebounding drills. But that will have changed when the Wildcats take the floor against the Blue Devils.
He said his players should have a grasp of fundamental concepts such as positioning themselves for rebounds.
”It’s more or less us being conscious about (the fact that) we follow the flight of the ball, which is I think sixth grade,” Calipari said. ”It might be seventh grade (that you learn) you don’t follow the flight of the ball. You see the flight and then you go find somebody (to block out) and then go get the ball.
”But again, if we haven’t worked on it I can’t be upset. And we hadn’t. I just thought, we’re 7-foot, 6-11, 6-10, 6-9, we’ll rebound. No. When your guards are taking off and they’re wedging you under and you’re looking at the ball and you’re next to the cheerleader, you’re probably not going to get the ball. … It’s going to take time.”
Rebounding isn’t the only issues the Wildcats have.
Kentucky enters the game against Duke (1-0) with some of the same point guard questions they had before its opener.
Sophomore Ryan Harrow, who has been bothered the past week by the flu, played just 10 minutes against Maryland and hasn’t practiced.
Graduate student Julius Mays, who suffered a cut under his eyebrow in the game, also didn’t practice after swelling developed on Sunday. Calipari said Mays didn’t receive stitches but is expected to be available against the Blue Devils.
The Wildcats don’t seem overly concerned.
One reason is Jarrod Polson’s play against Maryland. Prepared to play extensive minutes with Harrow ailing, the junior responded with career highs of 10 points, three assists, two rebounds and a pair of game-clinching free throws.
His play may not have surprised his coach, but his friends were startled.
Many expected the game to be controlled by his highly touted freshman teammates. Polson estimated that he received ”more than a hundred” congratulatory texts over the weekend.
He also sounds ready for more opportunities to contribute.
”I definitely feel more comfortable with my name getting called,” Polson said. ”I just like that feeling of being in every situation. I was nervous but I was really enjoying it out there and having the time of my life.”
Tuesday’s game certainly figures to whet the appetites of Wildcats fans whose invasion on Atlanta has resulted in the city being ”Cat-lanta” when they’re around. That fierce fan base was surprisingly outnumbered by Maryland supporters in Brooklyn.
That’s not likely to be the case in Atlanta with Duke involved. The schools have played each other just 19 times with Kentucky winning 11 of those meetings, but Wildcats fans consider the Blue Devils rivals.
The seminal moment remains Christian Laettner’s game-winning shot in the 1992 East Regional finals that beat Kentucky 104-103 in overtime and sent Duke to the Final Four. While Cauley-Stein, 19, was unaware of what’s been called the greatest college game of all time or Laettner until being told about it on Monday, Calipari remembers it well for what might have been.
”If (official) Lenny Wirtz didn’t call the technical on me, that game never happens. We beat Kentucky,” said Calipari, whose Massachusetts lost 87-77 to the Wildcats in the semifinal.
”He called a ridiculous call from 55 feet away. He doesn’t make that call, we win that game. Then there is no Christian Laettner.”