After a 53-point effort vs. UCLA that saw the Wildcats close out the game on a 4:31 scoring drought, Kentucky head coach John Calipari says a change is coming. Seeing the team’s offensive struggles, specifically when faced with physicality, it is clear that the lineup is in need of a shake-up.
“Today was a day that I made it clear what roles are,” Calipari said during his call-in radio show Monday evening. “Probably going to change the starting lineup and have a couple of guys — we’re gonna have a couple of things different.”
One of those changes? A shift in minutes for a few individuals at the top of the rotation. It won’t be a complete drop-off, but a noticeable movement that will allow some other players an opportunity to shine.
“We got some guys that are probably playing a little bit too many minutes,” Calipari said. “They’re still gonna play. Let me just say this as a coach for young people, you don’t just go and blow it all up and think that it’s not going to affect kids mentally. You can’t. But you can challenge guys by saying, ‘You’re coming off the bench.’ The bench is the best teacher there really is.”
There was a clear disconnect between the players on the floor vs. UCLA, “discombobulated” as Calipari saw it. To get that fixed, he’s working on — you guessed it — a tweak.
“When you define roles, you’re defining how you look,” he said. “There are play starters and play finishers. Don’t try to be a play starter, those lead to turnovers. Tweaking a little bit, and I’m hoping you will see this in the next game and the next game and the next game. A couple of things that will — hopefully you’ll see a smoothness to us playing.”
The defense has been enough to win games. It’s the offense that has fallen short of expectations, especially when considering just how much talent is on this roster. The goal was 80 points per game to open the season, and that hasn’t changed, no matter how out-of-reach that benchmark feels after seeing the Wildcats score 53 in the CBS Sports Classic.
“I’m not budging. I’m in there right now trying to say, ‘Guys, this team is good enough to play with anybody in the country. Let’s go,” Calipari said. “We’ve got to get 80 points (per game). A grind-it-out game somebody plays like UCLA did, OK, then you score 72 or 73 because it’s a shorter game. We’re good enough defensively, they only scored 28 in the second half. We’re talking about offensively. … I know we’re not OK offensively right now and I know we’ve got to tweak some things. We’ve got to play a little differently.”
Who could be thrust into the starting lineup to help get things rolling on that end of the floor? It comes down to toughness, those who will be the bully rather than the bullied.
“The other thing I did (against the Bruins) and I think everybody knows it, I played the tough guys,” Calipari said. “We’re not going to get bullied by teams. If you’re getting bullied, I’m not playing you. I don’t care what else you’re trying to do, I’m not doing it.”
It’s pretty clear who those individuals are, two in particular being Chris Livingston and Lance Ware. The former finished with 14 points (5-8 FG, 2-3 3PT) — 11 coming to open the second half — to go with four rebounds and a block. The latter added two points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal while also leading the team in +/- with a +8 in 14 minutes.
“Lance and Chris went in,” he said. “People will look at Chris and his made baskets, but you’ve got to understand that he mixed up the game. He went in and he wasn’t afraid to battle. Then you have Lance. Yeah, Lance has a few flaws offensively, but you know what? The smartest kid on my team. He’ll be a coach one day if that’s what he chooses. If you watch the tape, you’ll see he was coaching everybody.”
Calipari singled out Livingston’s play against the UCLA star Jaime Jaquez Jr., fighting defensively after the 6-foot-7 forward lit Kentucky up early in the matchup. That’s on top of the offensive spark he provided for a team that desperately needed points on the board.
“He was behind some guys. Part of it was trying to do too much, but he never wavered. … He didn’t budge,” Calipari said of Livingston. “He said, ‘Coach, I trust you.’ And I kept telling him, ‘I believe in you. You’re going to get your opportunity and you’re going to bust out, you’re going to show everybody that you deserve to be on the court.’ And he did it. So now, he’s one of the guys.
“… He brings toughness. I mean, again, look at him physically. I’m gonna tell you right now, he did a good job on (Jaime) Jaquez. He did a good job on him, tested him.”
A change is coming, and it sounds like it’s going to include Chris Livingston. Who else is out and who else is in? We’ll find out Wednesday when the Wildcats take on Florida A&M at Rupp Arena.