Kentucky’s Calipari wants team to finish better

With the regular season winding down, Kentucky coach John

Calipari is still trying to get his team to learn how to finish off

close games.

Calipari recently addressed his players about the issue, hoping

his talk would inspire the No. 22 Wildcats before Saturday’s game

against South Carolina.

Calipari said youth has been part of the problem for the

Wildcats (18-7, 6-5). Only two players, Darius Miller and DeAndre

Liggins, played significant minutes on last year’s team – which had

a similar problem.

Many of Kentucky’s main contributors were in high school this

time last year, and rarely dealt with close-game situations.

Calipari doesn’t want his team to worry about the scoreboard,

imploring them to focus on the entire game.

”This is all new to them,” the coach said. ”We’re working on

it. That’s what we got to do. That’s the issue right now. Let’s

finish some games up in the last four or five minutes.”

Against Mississippi State on Tuesday, the Wildcats led by 13

with less than 4 minutes left before letting the Bulldogs rally to

83-79 with 43 seconds left.

During that stretch, Mississippi State scored nine straight

points, the Wildcats committed two turnovers and missed two free

throws, both front-end shots in bonus situations.

Kentucky eventually won 85-79.

Freshman Brandon Knight said when Kentucky has a double-digit

lead, he and his teammates have been too aggressive with the ball.

They’ve been trying to force shots when they don’t need to.

”We need to play to win and not play to the score,” Knight

said. ”Things like knowing time and clock and knowing when we’re

up double digits. We don’t need to score a lot under four minutes

if we have a double-digit lead. At that point, we need to make sure

we’re running clock and taking good shots.”

Kentucky has struggled on the road in the Southeastern

Conference. The Wildcats are 1-5 in conference road games this

season. All five losses have been by seven points or fewer.

Despite a roster full of youngsters, senior Josh Harrellson said

the players know what they need to do and how to execute. They just

haven’t done it. And even though leads have slipped, Harrellson

said his team hasn’t lost confidence in its ability to close out

games.

”I don’t think we’re less confident now,” Harrellson said.

”If we play our game, we’ll be all right. The last couple of

games, we got riled up when we didn’t know what was going to

happen. We stopped playing our basketball and played for the score,

I guess.”

Calipari said he hasn’t even thought about talking to his team

about the NCAA tournament or playing for a first-round bye in the

SEC tournament. Kentucky is fourth in the SEC Eastern Division.

Instead, he reminded the Wildcats that they don’t need to do

anything differently, they just need to play their game.

”We’re just worried about South Carolina,” Calipari said. ”We

just have to try to win a game, try to get better, try to finish a

game off and just walk in and say, ‘OK, let’s try to figure this

out.’ If we struggle again at the end of the game, let’s go back

and see where we’re struggling and what we can do.

”I have a good team and good players, now let’s try to keep

this thing rolling.”