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December 1, 2012
Offense sputters as Cats lose at home to Baylor
Willie Cauley-Stein doesn't know much Kentucky basketball history.
The UK freshman has admitted as much on more than one occasion this season, including Saturday after the Wildcats' stunning 63-54 loss to Baylor, which Cauley-Stein admitted he didn't know ended a 55-game homecourt winning streak.
But Cauley-Stein has learned at least one history lesson this week. As the seconds ticked away on the loss to Baylor - UK's second setback in three days - he got some perspective on recent history.
"Coming in here - we have probably the best fan-base support, all of our wins and the national championship - and I feel like we came in here thinking that we were (last year's) team," Cauley-Stein said. "But we're not that team."
Saturday was proof positive, as Kentucky did all kinds of recently-historic things.
Just not the good kinds.
In losing at home to Baylor, No. 8 Kentucky (4-3) surpassed its loss total from a season ago (those Wildcats went 38-2 en route to the NCAA title); lost at Rupp Arena for the first time under John Calipari (he dropped to 54-1 at home); became the first Calipari-coached UK team to lose back-to-back nonconference games; and completed a week in which it posted the two lowest-scoring games of the Calipari era.
As a result, the Wildcats are in danger of falling out of the Top 25 for the first time since Calipari took the job.
"I'm not fazed," Calipari said afterward. "I knew we weren't very good. What I need our players to understand is, that we are not a very good team right now and we are not individually very good."
That certainly was the case against Baylor (5-2).
The Bears hounded the Cats defensively, holding them to 29.6 percent shooting (21-for-71). UK shot 18.2 percent from three-point range (4-for-22) and 50 percent from the free-throw line (9-of-18).
Only one UK player made more than half the shots he attempted - Alex Poythress was 6-for-10 - and Nerlens Noel, Kyle Wiltjer, Julius Mays and Ryan Harrow shot a combined 7-for-43 from the floor.
Despite that woeful shooting performance, Calipari noted, Kentucky had its chances to win. The Wildcats trailed by as many as 10 points in the second half, but cut the lead to three with 7:48 to play when Harrow's layup pulled UK within 51-48.
"Look, we didn't deserve to win the game," Calipari said. "If we would have won the game, it would have been, 'What in the world? We just shot 30 percent and won the game.' Now, I've done that a couple of times coaching different teams, shooting 30 percent and winning, but those teams are gritty and tough and have a will to win and finish the game off. This team is just not there yet. We're not."
It's a rare position for a Calipari team. His Kentucky teams, so reliant on freshmen, have struggled early in seasons before - the John Wall-led 2009-10 team needed a buzzer beat to top Miami of Ohio; the 2011 Final Four team lost eight regular-season games - but even those teams never struggled so mightily to score in consecutive games.
The offense is a work in progress, the point guard position still unsettled.
So while the Wildcats work out their offensive issues, they figure they'll have to grind out wins the way Calipari's other Kentucky teams did early in seasons.
"I would just say I realized (this week) that we have to have more of a will to win as a team," guard Archie Goodwin said. "That's really the main thing. I think that even though the shots didn't fall like we wanted them to, that will to win could have brought us over the hump in this game and our last game. As a team, we don't have that right now."
They're going to need it.
Cauley-Stein said that Calipari's "Everybody's Super Bowl" message sunk in this week.
Kentucky, he said, is starting to understand the level at which it will have to play every night to win against talented teams hungry to knock off the defending national champion - no matter how many pieces are missing from last season's title team.
"We're literally everybody's championship game," Cauley-Stein said, "and we've got to start playing like it's our championship game every time we go out there to match their intensity."
That takes a toll on a team.
"It's hard, but we chose that," Goodwin said. "We chose to come here to do that. If we didn't want that pressure, then we shouldn't have went here."
Calipari said his team has to "hate to lose," adding, "You can't be OK to lose to Duke. It's not OK. We lost."
Noel said his teammates have that hatred already. He's not concerned about Kentucky's effort.
Its execution is another matter.
"We're still working," Noel said. "It's still early. But we've really got to start progressing."