Youth­ful ros­ters mean UK, Vandy bat­tle could wind up a wild ride

Lexington Herald-Leader - - Sports - BY JERRY TIP­TON jtip­[email protected]­ald-leader.com

As a pre­cau­tion, Sat­ur­day night’s Ken­tucky-Van­der­bilt game should re­mind fans with weak stom­achs to take their anti-nau­sea medicine. Be­cause youth will be served.

Youth­ful im­pulse (served with a side of inat­ten­tion to game plans) could be all over the menu, er, Rupp Arena floor. Ken Pomeroy’s rat­ing of No. 304 in terms of ex­pe­ri­ence makes Vandy the grey­beard in the game. He has Ken­tucky rated No. 350

PJ Wash­ing­ton, a rel­a­tive old-timer as a sopho­more, put into per­spec­tive the “process” that UK coaches talk about each year, about mesh­ing a group of her­alded re­cruits into an ef­fec­tive team.

“As young play­ers com­ing to a school like this, you only think of your­self and what you can do in the fu­ture,” he said Fri­day. “But you’ve got to think about ev­ery­body else be­cause ev­ery­body else has the same goals as you. And ev­ery­body else is go­ing through ev­ery­thing you’re go­ing through.

“You’ve got to come out as one, and ev­ery­thing el­e­vates from there.”

To put it mildly, UK’s victory over Texas A&M on Tues­day was not up­lift­ing. Af­ter­ward, UK Coach John Cali­pari of­fered a list of laments. A player not do­ing his job in a play called mo­ments ear­lier dur­ing a time­out. Play­ers go­ing un­der screens, thus giv­ing a three-point shooter the com­fort to launch.

Maybe most damn­ing, Cali­pari said he saw UK play­ers think­ing it was all right to be out­worked by an op­po­nent. “Like ‘What’s the big deal?’” he said in his postgame news con­fer­ence. “‘You know who I am?’

“We’re break­ing down ex­e­cu­tion right now and it’s driv­ing me crazy . . . . That’s the kind of stuff that we’ve got to clean up, and it’s just not ac­cept­able if we are go­ing to be any good.”

A re­porter asked as­sis­tant coach Joel Jus­tus, who sub­sti­tuted for Cali­pari at Fri­day’s news con­fer­ence, if youth­ful in­dis­cre­tion ex­plained UK’s stum­bles.

“I think a ton of it is youth,” Jus­tus said.

Van­der­bilt 9-5 over­all and 0-2 in the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence, strains un­der the weight of sim­i­lar ton­nage.

“The eight-minute mark

was again our Achilles heel,” Coach Bryce Drew said of the 82-63 loss at Ge­or­gia on Wed­nes­day. “Couldn’t make shots. Couldn’t get stops . . . .

“Ob­vi­ously, we’re in a hole we didn’t want to be in, but it’s re­al­ity now. And how are we go­ing to re­spond?”

Ge­or­gia marked the first “true” road game for four of Vandy’s starters. “Both of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively, we’ve got a lot to im­prove on,” trans­fer Yanni Wet­zell said. “The ball stuck too much . . . There was too much one-on-one, and we need to move the ball, find the open man, drive to the bas­ket and kick out more.”

Joe Toye, the lone se­nior on Van­der­bilt’s team, said the 0-2 SEC record (av­er­age mar­gin of de­feat 14.5 points) should not be a sur­prise.

“We’re a young team,” he said Thurs­day. “It’s al­most ex­pected that we’re go­ing to have tough spots early in con­fer­ence play. I think we’re go­ing to be able to pick it up pretty soon . . . And we’re go­ing to need to get a win at Rupp.”

Toye and Wet­zell spoke of be­ing keyed up to play at Ken­tucky. Each re­called the Com­modores’ heart-break­ing loss at Ken­tucky last sea­son: a need­less foul 80 feet from the bas­ket in the fi­nal sec­onds of reg­u­la­tion al­lowed UK to make free throws to send the game into over­time. The Cats won 83-81.

“Def­i­nitely, last year we should have won that game,” said Wet­zell, who drove to Lex­ing­ton to watch the game.

The pain from that loss lingers.

“We’re frus­trated from that loss last year, and we dwelled on that for a while,” Wet­zell said. “So I’m look­ing for­ward to turn­ing that around.”

Toye spoke of win­ning at Ken­tucky as a goal, so Sat­ur­day’s game rep­re­sents one last chance.

That’s one more les­son for UK play­ers to learn: It’s not all right to be out­worked.

“We’ve had to have some con­ver­sa­tions about that, about who we’re play­ing and how im­por­tant it is to ev­ery­body else,” Jus­tus said. “It has to be­come that im­por­tant to us ev­ery sin­gle pos­ses­sion, not just at the end of the day.”

Wash­ing­ton spoke op­ti­misti­cally about where Ken­tucky is and where it’s headed on this sea­son’s learn­ing curve.

“To­mor­row’s game is a big step­ping stone for us,” he said. “We’ve got to come out and play 40 min­utes. That’s the big­gest thing we haven’t done all sea­son.”

ALEX SLITZ [email protected]­ald-leader.com

John Cali­pari has lamented his team’s youth­ful on-court mis­takes and inat­ten­tion to game plans. “It’s just not ac­cept­able if we are go­ing to be any good,” the UK coach said.

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