What does it mean when a basketball coach at the wrong end of an eye-popping 74-28 score is a season ticket-holder – for the winning team? And that he declares he’ll be avidly rooting for the other guys, from this point on?
On a Monday night in Rupp Arena, it meant that coach is Brian Lane of Transylvania. His Pioneers, who figured to be cannon fodder for the mighty Kentucky Wildcats, trailed only 27-18 at the half.
They let the second half get away.
“I said they could be proud – down nine points at halftime to the No. 3 team in the country obviously is something that they could be proud of,” Lane said of his team. Being blitzed 47-10 in the second period wasn’t much fun, nor did it give Kentucky’s coaching staff much of a read on its own team.
Lane said he apologized to John Calipari for not scoring more points, which might have provided a better sense of urgency among the Wildcats. But they were just too good, said Lane, whose team last year took an early 11-4 lead on Anthony Davis, Michael-Kidd Gilchrist and the rest of the eventual national champions, before falling by a large margin.
This year’s Kentucky team, by way of comparison, comes at you in more of a variety of ways, he said, particularly on defense.
“Last year we got off over 35, 36 three-pointers,” said Lane. “That was how we could stay in the game. This year we couldn’t get them off. We were trying to get 3s off and they held us only to 12 (attempts) in the first half. They close so well. If one guy makes a mistake, the next guy is there.
“ Last year we just had Anthony Davis that would block 35 shots. This time it was the next one and the next one.”
One of those guys was long-armed Willie Cauley-Stein, who admitted that Calipari stressed defending against the three. “We knew coming into the game that last year they put up around 30 3-point shots and that was a big emphasis,” he said.
It worked. The Pioneers scrapped their way to a nine-point halftime deficit, but were powerless to slow the blue machine after recess. Lane was impressed with the way the Wildcats have developed over the past few weeks.
“I saw them work out twice earlier in the year before they even started practicing and you could just see the potential is there,” he said. “I know Coach Cal is having to really get a lot of extra energy out of them. That comes with youth.”
He may not recruit the same level of athlete, but as a fellow coach, Lane recognizes developing potential when he sees it. And effort.
“ I was at those workouts. I’ve seen them practice,” he said. “If you think they just recruit really good players and throw the ball out to them, you’re crazy. Those guys coach.”
Lane amended his comments to indicate that he knows the reporters on the UK beat are aware of the work put in by Calipari and his staff, implying that the coaching technique of simply rolling the ball out and letting them play might be how certain parts of the basketball nation perceive the UK coaching staff. Lane is a fan.
“Defensively they are just going to get better and better and better,” he said. “I saw (video) from Blue-White to the first exhibition, and you could see just a different intensity level. They are just going to continue to get better and better as the season goes along.”
A season that begins Friday against Maryland, far from home – in Brooklyn, N.Y. And this team is far from where it will be in late March. But according to an opposing coach who grew up in Lexington a fan of the Wildcats (and still is), there’s a lot to look forward to.