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Kentucky's Wake-Up Call

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - While his Kentucky team was losing one
battle to Tennessee, coach John Calipari was losing another to a
clipboard.
Calipari was still sporting a bandage on his right hand Tuesday,
an injury he said happened when he punched the board during a
timeout in the first half of the No. 3 Wildcats' loss Saturday in
Knoxville.
"The other one I used to just be able to tap and it would
break," Calipari said. "Somebody gave me a steel clipboard.
Because of my strength, I really dented it, but it didn't break."
The dented but not broken Wildcats (27-2, 12-2 Southeastern
Conference) are hoping to show the same kind of resilience as they
try to bounce back from their second loss of the season and close
in on Calipari's goal of a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
Next up is a trip Wednesday to Georgia (13-14, 5-9), a team
Calipari insists has grown substantially since Kentucky beat the
Bulldogs 76-68 on Jan. 9 at Rupp Arena.
The loss by Kentucky, ranked No. 2 last week, was just part of a
wild weekend of upsets in college basketball, with then-No. 1
Kansas and then-No. 3 Purdue also falling, allowing Syracuse to
claim the top spot this week.
"It kind of shows every team is in a rut or a struggle right
now," junior forward Josh Harrellson said. "Every team has
problems. No team is perfect. Every team is beatable. I wish we had
won so we could be No. 1 again, but No. 1 isn't a good place to be,
I think."
Calipari has consistently said that the only thing that really
matters is the NCAA tournament, and before that, all the
regular-season games and even the SEC Tournament are simply about
jockeying for seeds. However, on Tuesday he acknowledged these last
few games are also about momentum - something Kentucky is
struggling to seize.
"If we're not going to be playing right, it doesn't matter if
we're a No. 1 seed," Calipari said. "We'll be the first ones
out."
The most glaring deficiency in the loss to Tennessee was 3-point
shooting, as the Wildcats connected on just two of 22 attempts from
long range. Calipari said he still had plenty of faith that several
players on his team can hit a clutch 3 when it matters.
Four games in a row the long shots haven't been falling for
Kentucky, but Calipari said he isn't worried about a trend
developing and refuses to call it a slump.
"You're talking about guys who over the season have shot the
ball as well as anybody in the country," he said. "They've hit a
spell where they don't shoot it well. I've done this so long, it
doesn't faze me. Now, if they're buying into what everybody's
saying, then it may faze them."
Freshman guard Jon Hood, whose playing time has been scarce this
season, approached Calipari on Monday when he was running on a
treadmill and suggested he thought he could help with some outside
shooting. Calipari told him he'd give him a chance.
Still, Hood agreed that whether he's playing or not, the
Wildcats' shooting woes won't continue.
"At some point, just like a baseball player, you're going to
have a little slump," he said. "Whether it be one game or four
games, it can change at any given time. That's what we're trying to
do."
And, if the 3s continue to clang off the rim, Calipari said
there is another solution, too: Don't take as many of them, and
instead drive to the basket more often.
"This is what we are," he said. "We never built this team in
the short time we had to build it by saying we're going to be a
back-it-up, 3-point shooting team. We're not. If we make them, we
make them."
Georgia has already won a game against all the other teams in
the SEC East: Vanderbilt, which lost to Kentucky twice, and South
Carolina and Tennessee - the only teams to beat the Wildcats.
Although Kentucky fans might want to see the outside shooting
return, Calipari said his focus is on Georgia's inside game. Trey
Thompkins is averaging nearly 18 points and more than eight
rebounds per game, while Travis Leslie has become a weapon on both
offense and defense.
It's a big game for a team Calipari argues might be the least
experienced in the country considering that most of the key players
are freshmen and the few veterans only reached the NIT last season.
"The games are different," Calipari said. "The hype on the
games are different. The road experience is different. This is all
new to this entire team."


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