With their best player out for the season with a torn ACL and their NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy after a 30-point rout at Tennessee, Kentucky players appeared somber and tense during practice the past few days.
As a result, coach John Calipari came up with a clever way to lighten the mood.
Calipari had his players and staffers square off in a team-wide game of dodgeball at the end of the Wildcats' walkthrough on the eve of Wednesday night's home game against Vanderbilt.
Assistant coach John Robic wore a Will Ferrell-esque headband, high socks and a jersey. Calipari donned a football helmet. And players and coaches took turns hurling rubber balls at one-another until the stress and frustration of a two-game losing streak and an uncertain NCAA tournament future had dissipated. (Watch the video of it here)
Who knows if the dodgeball game really played a role in Kentucky's improved showing in a 74-70 victory over Vanderbilt on Wednesday, but the important thing is the players seem convinced it did. Willie Cauley-Stein admitted to CoachCal.com that "everybody's spirits were down" after the Tennessee loss, but he insisted the dodgeball game helped change that.
“It wipes everything out,” Cauley-Stein said. “That’s kind of what it did. It was like, ‘Oh, dodgeball!’ Right when he said dodgeball, anything you was thinking was gone.”
Cauley-Stein, Kentucky's lone true big man now that Noel is out, enjoyed a bounce-back game on Wednesday night, scoring 20 points, grabbing seven boards and blocking three shots. The "uncoachables" -- guards Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin -- also responded with improved performances, combining for 28 points and seven assists.
There were still plenty of mistakes by Kentucky, especially defending the 3-point arc, but Calipari saw enough he liked that he's going to stick with the idea of incorporating more team-bonding activities into his practices. This Friday, once the Wildcats are done getting ready for Missouri the following night, they'll have another team-wide competition: Wiffle ball.
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