Calipari 'jacked' about Wildcats

John Calipari excited about Cats' progress.

Kentucky is coming off the toughest of its four losses to date, an 87-85 defeat Tuesday at Arkansas that ended on a rebound dunk by the Razorbacks with less than a second remaining on the clock, but one couldn't tell by the spirits at the Craft Center this week.

Kentucky is coming off the toughest of its four losses to date, an 87-85 defeat Tuesday at Arkansas that ended on a rebound dunk by the Razorbacks with less than a second remaining on the clock, but one couldn't tell by the spirits at the Craft Center this week.

"Been good. Been good," Calipari said of the Wildcats' return to the practice floor. "I just told them, we watched some clips, some things that we had breakdowns (and) where fate intervened against us. On about seven plays, fate intervened, and so you've got to play anyway. Just play. And that was my message. The other thing is, we just worry about getting better."

Apparently, that's happening, and it's not just about making more shots and stopping others.

"After the game, James (Young) tried to apologize to his team," Calipari said of UK's freshman forward who missed a block-out assignment on Arkansas' Michael Qualls, allowing him to soar for the game-winning bucket. "They were like, ‘Stop. If you don't make the 3, we're not even here. I could have got the ball.' Another guy said, ‘I was standing there, too, James. Don't you do that. You played and made shots to help us. This is on all of us.' Good sign. Good sign. Again, you've got to know that you're there for each other.

"I was jacked to be at practice yesterday."

Asked if there could be any lineup changes on the horizon, Calipari indicated he plans to stick with the same five who have been starting in recent weeks – Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein – but noted that sophomore forward Alex Poythress is playing as well as anyone in blue and white right now.

Poythress had a huge offensive rebound that led to Young's game-tying 3-pointer near the end of overtime that almost forced a second extra period.

"Unbelievable," Calipari said. "I don't know of another player in the country who could have made that play, and I know no one else on our team could have made it."

Including Poythress earlier this season.

"No. He would have never went after that ball," the UK boss said. "He would never attempt it, and then when you talked to him about it, his head would have went down, and he would have slumped. That's what he was then. "But now he can be alert because he's in great shape. He can be alert because he's busted through comfort levels. He's doing more than he ever thought he could do, and it just took him more time. I mean, these kids are on different time tables. They all are."

Calipari is as happy with Poythress's mental transformation as the physical one.

"It started with that base foundation – get in shape, mentally; get yourself right," he said. "And you can't get mentally right until you can physically push through comfort levels and get yourself to where you've never been."

The Tennessee native is also doing a better job of eliminating outside voices which could have affected his game in the past.

"You can't deal with the clutter, all the other stuff out there," Calipari said. "He had to deal with clutter. It's this, it's that. ‘He likes him more.' ‘If you did this and that…' And no one in that clutter makes these kids take responsibility. At some point, you've got to be a man and man up. It isn't about another player on the team. It isn't about coach. It's about me, and I'm going to change this."

Calipari also cited Cauley-Stein, who had a subpar 2-point, 6-rebound game at Arkansas, as a player who has learned how to accept responsibility and get better.

"They're not machines," Calipari said. "But he was unbelievable in practice (Thursday). He knows, and he's taking responsibility. He knows. It wasn't what I said or did. It wasn't what a teammate was doing. It was his performance, he owned it, and now I've got to change it."

No. 13 Kentucky (12-4, 2-1 SEC) returns to action Saturday at Rupp Arena against Tennessee (11-5, 2-1) in a noon ET tip-off.

The Volunteers are led by senior guard Jordan McRae (18.4 ppg) and junior forward Jarnell Stokes (13.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg). Quonzo Martin's team is also getting 10.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game from senior forward Jeronne Maymon and could pose one of the best challenges to date to the Wildcats' dominant rebounding squad.

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Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for FOX Sports since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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