LEXINGTON – One of many things I liked about Travis Ford when he played for Coach Rick Pitino at Kentucky in the early ‘90s was that Ford was one of the few players ever to wear blue and white who dared offer an original thought to the media.
For example, you might preface a question to Ford like this: “Coach Pitino says” ... fill in the question.
And if the strong-willed Ford didn’t agree with what Pitino had said, Ford’s voice would drip into obvious sarcasm, and he’d reply, “Well, if Coach Pitino says it, it MUST be true.”
I thought about Travis Ford Tuesday night after the Samford Bulldogs put this edition of the Kentucky Wildcats to sleep in the second half, and UK settled for an 88-56 victory.
Kentucky improved to 5-3, and Samford fell to 2-8.
The Wildcats led this game 45-14 at halftime and could have won it more like 100-35 had they played as hard in the second half as they did the first.
So UK coach John Calipari was clearly agitated afterward, promising to immediately start three-a-day practices over the semester break, starting with 7 a.m. running.
“Well, we’re going to condition in the morning for the next three weeks, and then practice because I can’t think of any other reason why you wouldn’t come out in the second half and play,” Calipari said. “I just don’t understand that.”
I think I can help with that one, coach.
My theory is this, based on the first 20 minutes of this complete waste of everybody’s time: Samford played so astonishingly terrible in the first half the Bulldogs made Lafayette, for gosh sakes, look like potential NCAA champions.
Kentucky beat Lafayette, 101-49, on Nov. 16.
I was considerably amused by this comment from Samford coach Ben Seltzer about his team’s first-half woes.
“Once you get down by 30, you get settled in.”
Comment: Well, I suppose.
Then, later in his press session, Seltzer said: “We were just trying to stay within 50.”
Samford made Kentucky’s defense look like Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown teams.
Kyle Wiltjer looked like Michael Graham, for gosh sakes.
But Calipari, being a coach, wouldn’t buy any of this logic, this bit of human nature, if you will.
“You need to learn how to play a full game,” Calipari said. “They had the opportunity today. So we have to chalk it up to they’re not in shape.”
His players’ reaction is priceless.
When asked his thoughts about Cal’s new conditioning program, freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein replied: “He’s the coach. If he doesn’t think we are in shape, I guess we aren’t in shape.”
Wiltjer, who adds new meaning to the phrase good soldier, had this assessment of Calipari’s new training plan, specifically the 7 a.m. conditioning:
“We’re excited about it,” Wiltjer said. “We’re ready to get in better shape.”
All of this is largely nonsense, of course, and Cauley-Stein went on to admit as much later in his press session Tuesday night.
“It’s all mental,” Cauley-Stein said, getting to the heart of the matter. “He (Calipari) is trying to get us more mental toughness.
“There is no way we can’t be in shape. Going through the offseason and even how practices are now, there is no way we are not in shape.”
Ding, ding, ding ... some refreshing honesty there.
The other amusement on this night concerned Seltzer’s comment to his Bulldogs before the game that this is the worst Kentucky team he’s ever seen.
In Seltzer’s defense, he was merely trying to alleviate any intimidation factor that his players might have about Kentucky that might contribute to making this loss any worse than it was.
“It was all for motivation,” Seltzer said. “I said they are human just like you. There is no need to go out there and be afraid.”
Well, obviously, the Bulldogs were either afraid or just not very good.
All we know for sure is they settled in once they fell behind 30.
Calipari, told that Seltzer had told his team this was Kentucky’s worst team, replied: “I haven’t seen all the Kentucky teams, but I can’t imagine there weren’t a few that were worse than us.”
Six Wildcats scored in double figures versus Samford, led by Archie Goodwin with 18 points. Alex Poythress had 16 points, Nerlens Noel 13, Cauley-Stein 12, and Wiltjer and Julius Mays 10 each.
Stein also had 12 rebounds in just 22 minutes. Poythress had eight rebounds, and Noel six boards.
Mays led in assists with five, and Noel had five blocked shots.
Kentucky out-rebounded Samford, 41-25.
The Wildcats rebounded from their horrendous shooting Saturday against Baylor by hitting 34 of 61 versus Samford, for 55.7 percent.
Kentucky continued to struggle at the free throw line, however, hitting just 11 of 18.
The Wildcats host Portland Saturday at noon on ESPN2.