LEXINGTON — Guard Doron Lamb says Kentucky’s problem on the road in Southeastern Conference games have not hurt the team’s confidence as it prepares to play at Arkansas tonight.
“We feel confident. Everybody’s happy, smiling while we’re having great practices and doing what coach (John Calipari) tells us in practice. If we keep doing that, then we’re going to win our games on the road,” Lamb said. “We really stepped it up on defense and focused on rebounding (the last two home games). We had more rebounding as a team and if we keep doing that we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Calipari just wants No. 22 Kentucky (19-7, 7-5 SEC) to continue to execute and play with no fear of losing as it did last week while beating Mississippi State and South Carolina.
“You’ve got to play to win. It’s kind of like prevent defense in football prevents you from winning,” Calipari said Tuesday. “Playing not to lose leads to losses. You’ve got to play to win. You’ve got to know the clock. You’ve got to know that you’re up double-digits, you don’t have to look at the score. You know. If you’re down, you speed it up. If you’re up, you try to work clock and score when you have the opportunity. It’s all stuff we’re learning.”
Calipari shortened the last two practices, even though he has not cut back to the normal 75 minutes he would have a team practicing in late February because he felt this team needed more coaching.
“The issue has been this team needed to be coached. This year’s team just has so much to do you can’t just say we’re good where we are. We’re not good where we are. We’ve got to get better. And they’re getting better,” he said.
However, to prove the Wildcats are better, they need to win on the road tonight at Arkansas (16-10, 5-7).
“What I’ll probably talk to them about is that we’ve got two more road games. After that everything’s neutral (in postseason play), and our fans are everywhere. So let’s use these to get better. Let’s look beyond just wins and losses. Let’s start playing better,” Calipari said.
He knows winning at Arkansas will not be easy. The Razorbacks are 14-3 at home with wins over Tennessee and Alabama.
“I think they play really hard. They have talented guards and their big people are huge, very athletic. The sprint the ball up court, run good stuff in the half court. They are a good team,” Calipari said.
Arkansas’ scoring leader is guard Rotnei Clark, one of the SEC’s best outside shooters. He made 100 3-point shots last season and is 69 for 161 from 3-point range this year (42.9 percent) and averages 13.6 points per game.
“Clark stands out as one of the best pure shooters in the country,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I think one thing we tried to do was get him to play inside the 3-point line and make him put the ball on the floor. I think he works as hard as he can off screens.
“What we do is try to pay attention because he is a game-changing type guy. I don’t think stats have any bearing on what kind of shooter he is. He is a phenomenal catch-and-shoot guy. His strength is not to play off the bounce and be a creator. But he is as good as any shooter.”
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings was just as impressed.
“Clark was faster than us. Faster on his cuts, faster on his drives. He made open shots. He made covered shots. He made drives that were open and contested. He really took advantage of us,” Stallings said of the 89-78 loss in Nashville to Arkansas. “They feed off when he starts making 3s.
“Obviously he is a big key to their team. We did a reasonably good job on their two post players, but we let everybody else hurt us. He is very key to what they do because he is their best perimeter option.”
Arkansas coach John Pelphrey thinks Clark is playing better inside the 3-point line and that teammates are also delivering the ball to him better.
“He is better at playing inside the 3-point line and has to be because people are so pressed up on him. He needs to play his role, but I think he has improved and just gotten a lot better with his decision making and playing off the ball,” Pelphrey said.
Calipari worries that Clark could cause the same problems for UK that Vandy’s John Jenkins did when he scored 32 points.
“He’s a quick trigger, he gets to the foul line. He’s really good. But their other guards are good. Their other guards all try to get in the lane and create havoc,” Calipari said. “Their big people are throwing lobs at the rim. This is a team that is a dangerous team.
“They probably think they can beat us, and I don’t think it’s going to lighten them up. It’s going to be a war. Every game we have from here on in is a war. We either have to bow the necks and play or you get beat.”