The Wildcats (12-1) started strong and never struggled to beat Lamar, and they also benefited from sophomore Terrence Jones’ return after missing two games with a dislocated pinky on his left—shooting—hand.
Calipari could have focused on that or freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s 18 points or freshman Anthony Davis’ sixth double-double in 12 games. Instead he labored over Lamar’s dominance on the offensive glass and the Wildcats’ 17 turnovers.
“I’m not in a great frame of mind to talk about Saturday,” Calipari said of the instate rivalry game. “I’m like, `Right now, there are no excuses.’ I don’t want to hear it.”
Mike James had 29 points for Lamar (8-5), which hung with the Wildcats despite shooting 28.1 percent from the field in the first half. But Kentucky proved too much after halftime and didn’t allow the Cardinals consecutive baskets until almost 8 minutes had elapsed.
“We couldn’t have played any harder,” Lamar coach Pat Knight said. “This is just going to help us in conference. I thought we gave them everything they could. We made them keep their starters in until the end. We don’t need to hang our head; this is a team that I think has a chance to win the national championship.”
The Wildcats shot 49.1 percent from the field for the game, including going 7 of 14 from 3-point range.
Kentucky opened the game on an 11-2 run and maintained its first-half lead because of its free throw shooting. The Wildcats were 14 of 17 from the line in the first half and finished 27 of 33 overall.
But even then, Kentucky struggled to separate itself in the first half because of Lamar’s persistence on the offensive glass.
The Cardinals had 10 offensive boards before halftime compared to Kentucky’s 13 on the defensive end. The consistent looks close to the basket gave Lamar ample opportunity to chip away from the free throw line, where the Cardinals were 10 for 10 in the first half.
In the second half the Wildcats proved too much. Kidd-Gilchrist scored seven straight points to extend the `s lead to 53-37 with 14:59 left, and the Cardinals never got closer than that the rest of the game.
Calipari’s main concern was that not enough of his players were physical. Other than Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis—who combined for 19 of Kentucky’s 36 rebounds—Calipari said he didn’t know where rebounds would come from against Louisville, especially if Kidd-Gilchrist picks up two first-half fouls like he did Wednesday for the third straight game.
“I think I’m being overly aggressive,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I just have to calm down. That’s the way it goes. (Calipari) said he needs me out there on the court. I think that’s why he puts me back in the game in those situations. It’s not easy.”
Jones finished with nine points and six rebounds in 27 minutes. He dislocated the finger on Dec. 17 against Tennessee-Chattanooga and missed two games. He said after the game his finger still isn’t 100 percent, but he was well enough to play at game speed.
Calipari said getting Jones tuned up in short order is important, but it’s far from the only problem on his mind heading into Saturday.
“You can’t hide here,” Calipari said. “This is Kentucky. There isn’t a rock big enough, no cracks big enough. You’re out there, and either you’re going to perform or you’re not, and there is no excuse why you’re not. Like I said, we’ve got a ways to go.”
- Encapsulating the West Region
- UConn AD preparing pitch, waiting to hear from Big 12
- UNC gets 1-week extension to respond to 5 NCAA charges
- ACC, ESPN extend deal to 2036 that includes new ACC Network
- Beehive Classic features Utah, BYU, Utah State, Weber State
- Attorney: NCAA missed deadline to respond in Tyndall case