After winning three straight games, No. 11 Kentucky didn’t put its best foot forward, so to speak, in their 87-82 loss at LSU on Tuesday night. Defensively the effort wasn’t where it needed to be, with LSU shooting nearly 51% from the field and Johnny O’Bryant III torching the Wildcat big men for 29 points to go along with nine rebounds. Offensively the Wildcats forced shots and didn’t share the basketball as much as they should have, and those factors resulted in the team’s second conference defeat.
The effort issues don’t go for every player who saw time on Tuesday, with Dakari Johnson and James Young being two of the exceptions on Tuesday. And if Kentucky is to win at Missouri on Saturday, there cannot be any questions regarding the team’s effort or temperament.
For some teams a players-only meeting is the proper tonic, with players airing their grievances and committing to do whatever it takes to better the team. And that’s the path the Wildcats reportedly took in the aftermath of their loss to LSU, with sophomore Alex Poythress organizing the meeting.
That’s a move to be applauded by the head coach, right? Not if you ask Calipari, who voiced his opinion on the subject on Friday according to Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal.
On the players-only meeting and him typically not being impressed with those: “Don’t want to know. Don’t want to know, don’t care. Let’s play. This all is about what we do on the court, preparing to go to war, understanding that the other team is excited to play you. That’s all what this comes down to.”
On if it’s significant that Alex Poythress called the meeting: “You’re telling me stuff that I don’t know because I don’t care to know. All I want to see is that we’re prepared to play and that we’re understanding that the other team is absolutely excited to play you, and you have to be excited and energetic and passionate and that’s how you have to play basketball.”
During his press conference Calipari also noted that the players are the ones who need to step up and lead the team, something many have been waiting for with this current group. And that goes a long way towards solving problems on the court, as the presence of a leader (or leaders) usually ensures that there’s a collective effort to make things right instead of every man pulling in his own direction.
There will still be growing pains for this group regardless of the collection of individual talent, due in large part to the age of the players on the team. Outside of senior Jarrod Polson the entire rotation consists of underclassmen, and that can be an issue for some teams.
Kentucky needs to figure out its leadership issue, with Saturday’s road game being the first opportunity for players to step up in a hostile environment. NCAA tournament games may be played on neutral floors, but the magnitude of the moment makes leadership critical. And whether or not leaders emerge will determine just how far the Wildcats go.