Quade Green knows what it takes for the Wildcats to return to their winning ways.
“It’s gotta be a group thing,” said Green (pictured during Kentucky's 76-66 loss to Auburn Wednesday night). “That’s the only way you’re going to win a national championship, with the group. Not just one player.”
Although the Wildcats closed out January with three straight victories, including an 83-76 win over West Virginia, Kentucky opened February with four straight setbacks, a first in the John Calipari era. UK dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 for the second time earlier this week and faces a tough task making a return to the poll during the next three weeks of the regular season.
“We’ve just gotta get back to our winning selves, really. I don’t think anybody on this team really lost three in a row in their previous years of playing basketball,” Green said. “It’s just a hard thing for all of us, even coach Cal. We’ve gotta come out with some fight.”
Green said the Wildcats regrouped following an 85-74 loss at Texas A&M last weekend and vowed to become a better player down the stretch.
“My aspect, I think I’ve done a poor job — a poor job trying to get the team together,” Green said. “Ever since we lost to Texas A&M, as a team we talked together so we’ve been on the same page ever since. Ever since that loss talking on the bus ride, we’ve been on the same page now.”
Kentucky associate coach Kenny Payne said the young Wildcats (17-9 overall and 6-7 SEC) are “getting a lesson there are no excuses at Kentucky.”
“There is no, ‘My stomach hurts. I don’t feel good. I’m fighting the flu. I don’t have it tonight.’ There is no, ‘The referee gave me a bad call.’ There is no, ‘I was open and he didn’t pass it to me.’ The end result to all of this is that we brought you here to be winning basketball players or you wouldn’t be here,” Payne said earlier this week. “That’s your DNA or you would not be in this program. At the end of the day, you have to produce regardless of how you feel and how you think.”
Because of the youthfulness of the team, Payne said the Wildcats tend to have moments when “they’re second-guessing themselves.”
“Coaching doesn’t start when guys are playing well,” he said. “Anybody can coach a team when everything is going hunky dory; it’s when things are bad, it’s when adversity hits, it’s when kids have self-doubt, it’s when the ball doesn’t go in the hole and the kid doesn’t believe it’s going in the hole. How does he fight through that? Are you helping him through that?
“That’s what we do as coaches. That’s what Coach Cal has traditionally done and he’s continuing to do. It’s to do everything in his power to give his guys a chance to win a game, but more importantly play a certain way that gets you out of a rut.”
Payne added that the coaching staff also is trying to keep the team in the moment and keep believing regardless off the circumstances.
“We are trying to get them to believe, and I think it is more than just massage them. I think you have to hold each young person accountable. You have to make sure that you love them, that you – I hate to say the word but – hit them in the face but hit them with reality. That means challenge them, get after their butts. When you are not playing hard, when you’re tired, that’s not acceptable, and we are going to get after you for that. … We are going to challenge you as a college player to think as a professional player. That’s what we do here.”
UK hosts Alabama at Rupp Arena on Saturday, Feb 17 (2 p.m., CBS).
Keith Taylor is a veteran and award-winning sports writer based in Richmond, Ky. He has been covering University of Kentucky athletics for daily newspapers and web-site publications for the past 25 years. Taylor currently is sports editor for Kentucky Today and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.
UK Athletics Photo by Quinn Foster