LEXINGTON, Ky. – John Calipari is a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan. So what could make the Kentucky basketball coach quote Tom Brady just days after the New England Patriots quarterback denied his Steelers a trip to the Super Bowl?
This simple fact: Over the last five games, as his fourth-ranked Wildcats steadily devolved, guards Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe took 128 shots between them – making 58 of those – while forward Bam Adebayo got just 25 shots but made 21. That’s 45.3 percent for the guards, 84 percent for the big man, yet they typically keep the ball and he rarely gets it.
“Tom Brady made a statement that these guys aren’t listening to,” Calipari said Tuesday night after watching Monk take 19 shots to get his 25 points in an 82-80 loss at Tennessee, where Adebayo went for 21 on just eight attempts. “Doing what’s right for the team sometimes may not be right for you, but that’s how you win. That’s not getting through to some guys, and I told them after: ‘You’ll continue to lose.’ I’ve done this 30 years. You cannot do this stuff that they’re doing and win basketball games.”
Like turn it over seven times against South Carolina, as Briscoe did Saturday. Or jack up 13 threes – and miss 10 – as Monk did Tuesday. Calipari didn’t call them out by name, and there have certainly been other offenders, but it isn’t hard to tell he’s unhappy with Kentucky’s previously stellar backcourt.
“You know what we usually look like? Pass, pass, pass, pass, in, out, drive, kick, go. You know what everybody’s doing right now? Whoever has it holds it as long as they can,” Calipari said. “We’re just not playing how we were two weeks ago. Maybe we got arrogant.”
Monk has averaged 15 shot attempts over the last five games and Briscoe has averaged 10. In the four games before point guard De’Aaron Fox tweaked his right ankle against the Gamecocks, he also averaged 15 shots. But Adebayo, who has become an unstoppable force in the paint, averaged just five field-goal attempts over the last five games.
“Bam at some point, I don’t know if you saw me laugh, he walks over and says, ‘You may want to tell them to throw me the ball,’ ” Calipari said after Tuesday’s loss. “We wouldn’t throw Bam the ball until at halftime I said, ‘That’s it. You either throw him the ball or you’re coming out.’ And it’s not that we’ve got selfish guys. It’s just that they’re playing – just playing – versus, ‘OK, what are we trying to do each trip down?’ ”
There’s also the matter of defense. The Wildcats have allowed 80-plus points in three of the last five games and seen their defensive efficiency rating nosedive. An opposing player has scored at least 25 points in each of the last three games.
Tuesday it was Robert Hubbs III, a Tennessee senior who lit up Kentucky for the second-most points of his college career. Calipari said the Cats were too worried about who was going to take the next ill-advised shot to bother much with defending the Vols.
“But we’re all freshmen. We may need to lose a few games in a row and then have them come to my office en masse and say, ‘Coach, we surrender. Tell us what you want us to do, because we know we can’t win now,’ ” he said. “I hate to lose, but sometimes it’s good.”
Here’s the thing about that: Kentucky’s next three games are against No. 2 Kansas, Georgia and at Florida. That’s two good opponents, one great one and a series of chances for the Wildcats to lose their grip on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After an ugly couple of weeks, though, Calipari seems more concerned with what condition his team is in than what position it is in come March.
“We had 14 turnovers and 14 assists” against Tennessee, he said. “We were getting 30 assists, Now we’re at 14. Next week it may be 7. I mean, we’ve got to pass the ball to each other. Then you’re making it hard for the other team. We’re doing it the opposite way: We’re making it hard for us and making it easy for the other team.”