LEXINGTON — At this time last year, John Calipari often wondered what it might take to get Doron Lamb to work harder on his overall play.
Now the sophomore guard is the one player consistently drawing praise from the Kentucky coach for putting in extra work.
“He's been good. Let me just tell you, the extra time that he's spending on that basketball court before practice, after practice, you're all seeing the benefit of it,” Calipari said Tuesday after the Wildcats’ win over Samford in which Lamb scored a game-high 26 points. “The guys that are going in stretching and lifting and doing things before breakfast, that is another group of guys. You'll see them start to get better.
“I like to say it. You get what you deserve in basketball and in life. You want to spend that extra time, there is going to be a result from it. It doesn't happen in a day. But when you start linking days together, weeks together, months together, you start seeing it.”
Lamb played 31 minutes Tuesday and tied his season high in points by going 8 for 12 from the field, including 4 for 6 from 3-point range, and 6 for 7 at the free throw line. He also pulled off six defensive rebounds, made one steal and committed only one turnover.
He briefly appeared to injure his wrist in the second half, something Calipari downplayed.
“He's fine. I think he got tired. He played a lot of minutes, so I think he was getting tired,” Calipari joked.
Lamb said he thought he “jammed” his wrist.
“I think I bent it on someone’s back or something. It’s all good, though,” he said after the game, indicating that it would not be a problem in this afternoon’s game against Loyola (Md.).
It was Lamb’s second straight game with 20-plus points (he had 24 against Chattanooga), and he again demonstrated the ability to get to the foul line. Last year he was 79 for 100 from the charity stripe in 38 games. This season he’s already taken 46 free throws — and made 38 — in 11 games.
“I’m just going to the rack a lot more. I know if I get fouled then I can knock those shots down. So I’m just trying to drive more and create for my teammates,” he said.
He’s gone 18 for 29 from the field in the last two games and has amassed 50 points and 12 rebounds after going 5 for 14 with just one rebound in the Wildcats’ loss at Indiana.
“I’ve been putting in a lot of work before and after practice, especially before practice. I get there a little early and get a little workout in on the treadmill. I’ve been putting up a lot of shots while I am tired, and it is paying off for me now,” Lamb said.
Cat fan: Samford coach Jimmy Tillette came away from Tuesday’s game impressed with Kentucky, especially since the Cats played without preseason All-America Terrence Jones, who missed the game with a finger injury.
“What can you say, they are without their best player, and he is a really good player,” Tillette said. “A team like Kentucky, they are well-coached, but they are athletic enough that when they make a mistake defensively they erase it. They erased about five balls off the boards that in our league nobody is erasing.
“On the other end, they are going to get in to a comfortable mode of shooting, so they are going to feel freer and be more in rhythm to make shots that they might not normally make. I don’t really see a weakness for their team.”
“I told Cal before the game that this is a good gig for him, this program has a chance to take off and move in a positive direction, so he should stay here as long as he can. They proved that tonight, they are an outstanding team.”
Hood update: Calipari said injured forward Jon Hood is “doing good” and is involved in every practice as he rehabilitates his preseason knee injury.
“He watches tape with coach (John) Robic. He’s around us and he’s doing pretty good,” Calipari said Wednesday.
Hood said he has not had a specific talk with Calipari about whether he would or would not redshirt this year.
“When that time comes, I’ll go up and I’ll talk to Coach and we’ll talk about it, but up to this point we haven’t talked about it, so I don’t know if he’d say if I am or not,” Hood said. “All my focus is on just trying to get back and give these guys insight on how to win and how to run this offense. That’s all I’m doing now. Coming down to the SEC tournament, I don’t know. Late February is a difficult time period to get my conditioning back up. I’ll get to start shooting sometime next week.”
Hood does like the way he sees the team improving.
“They’re night and day as far as Anthony Davis is so much tougher, Marquis (Teague) is running the point guard spot so much better. Everybody’s putting in the extra work,” he said.
Preparation: Calipari said that today’s game with Loyola would be another good way for his team to see something a bit different from an opponent.
“They play a funky zone, they press, and they press on the side-out. They are going to come after us and press, they will not back down,” he said. “(Loyola coach) Jimmy (Patsos) does a great job with his team. They’ve got good players, they are physical, they are older and they shoot the 3.
“They run a lot flex, they run a lot of hand-offs and pick-and-rolls into flex stuff. He does a great job with his team, they are (8-2). The two games they lost they had a chance to win both of them, they could have come in here (10-0).”
Wiltjer time: Calipari wants to see forward Kyle Wiltjer, who has struggled with his defense and shooting, start playing better before Kentucky opens Southeastern Conference play in two weeks.
“We need a confident player out there making baskets, because that’s what he does for us. We also have to figure out how we are going to play defensively with him in,” Calipari said.
“I have to come up with some plans and schemes with him on that court, because he will do what we ask him to do. I don’t want him to shoot all 3s ,so yesterday he did some step-throughs, but didn’t cover enough ground. You need to cover space and then shoot the ball.
“The best play he made was we were in the huddle and he hadn’t made a shot, so I said we were going back at him, let’s see if he makes it now. That’s the one where Darius (Miller) went off the screen and threw it back to him and he made the 3. It’s a good sign. The kid has courage. He can miss five shots and I can put him back in and expect him to make a shot.”