Calipari not thrilled with UK's final tuneup

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Multiple times before Thursday’s 81-59 throttling of St. John’s, Kentucky students approached center Anthony Davis on campus and wished the freshman good luck.

And not against the Red Storm.

“Everyone wants to talk about North Carolina,” Davis said. “It’s been that way for the last month.”

Indeed, there won’t be a nonconference game all season as anticipated as Saturday’s tilt between No. 1 Kentucky and the Tar Heels, who fell from No. 1 to No. 5 in the polls following this past Saturday’s loss at UNLV.

“People wish they were still ranked No. 1,” Davis said. “It doesn’t really matter, though. It’s going to be a fight.”

Or at least that’s what John Calipari hopes. Terrence Jones scored 26 points while Davis had 15 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks in Thursday’s win over St. John’s. After the game, Calipari pleaded with fans listening to his radio show to remember one thing.

“It’s Dec. 1, folks,” Calipari said. “It’s Dec. 1.”

Calipari is known for downplaying his team’s success, especially early in the season. But with North Carolina headed to town and a Dec. 10 game against undefeated Indiana in Bloomington, some of his concerns seem legitimate.

Calipari complained that the Wildcats aren’t exhibiting the physical toughness he likes to see in his players, noting that the Johnnies continually stripped the ball from the Wildcats, especially in the paint.

“When it got rough, we had guys who couldn’t come up with balls,” he said. “It’s an Achilles heel for us.”

The bigger problem, Calipari said, is on the offensive end. The Cats shot just 40 percent against a Red Storm squad that features four freshmen and two junior college transfers among its top seven players. Shot selection. Ball movement. Guys being out of place. Everything, Calipari said, seemed disjointed.

“We were inept offensively,” Calipari said. “We just aren’t in sync yet, and we have to get it there. I’m looking at other teams around the country that are top-ranked teams. They are just way ahead of us offensively. Just way ahead.”

That’s understandable, of course. Three of UK’s starters (Davis, point guard Marquis Teague and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) are freshmen. And even though every game in Lexington has a “big time” feel, the trio hasn’t experienced anything like the hoopla that will surround this weekend's showdown against the Heels, who have as many as six potential first-round NBA draft picks in their rotation.

Calipari said Kentucky will be in trouble if it has to rely on its freshmen to win. He said Jones is going to have to step up and take charge along with sophomore Doron Lamb and senior Darius Miller.

“[Jones] is going to have to play better these next two games,” Calipari said. “It’s not even about the numbers. You’ve got to come up with balls. You’ve got to be the guy on the court being where you’re supposed to be and showing leadership.

“The next two [games] are going to be ridiculously hard for us to win. If we don’t have that from him, you’re counting on freshmen.”

If that does end up happening, though, Davis said he’ll be up for the challenge. Davis will face the difficult chore of going up against UNC veterans John Henson and Tyler Zeller, each of whom is a potential lottery pick.

Davis said he isn’t worried or nervous about facing such a tough opponent just eight games into his college career.

“It’s the same strategy,” he said. “We’ve got to come in with the same mindset. North Carolina laces their shoes up and folds their uniforms the same way we do. They’re another basketball team. We’ve got to play with a lot of intensity.”

But Kentucky knows it will take more than that against the Tar Heels.

“They’re a great team,” Miller said. “If we don’t come out ready, they’re going to embarrass us.”