LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson is already on the bandwagon and predicts Kentucky will be in the hunt for a national championship in March.
During his first visit to Lexington, which lasted less than 24 hours, Hinson was impressed with the hospitality of the Bluegrass State but he also knows how much passion this state has for the Wildcats, who rallied from an eight-point deficit to defeat his experienced Salukis 71-59 Friday night at Rupp Arena.
Hinson had a stern message for fans already down on the team after the dismal showing in the opener against Duke.
“You need to read the book of Job (in the Bible). You need to have a little patience,” Hinson said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. These guys are 18-, 19-, 20-years-old and you have children, children of your own, you want to microwave the (maturing) process you can’t do that. It takes time, so back off and let these guys go through the maturity process and let coach (John Calipari) do what he does best and, by March, you’re going to have something on the floor that you’re going to be really proud of.”
The prophetic comment by Hinson was bold this early in the season, considering the Wildcats were coming off a 118-84 beatdown to the fourth-ranked Blue Devils in its opener earlier this week. Kentucky (1-1) trailed Hinson’s veteran squad for nearly 20 minutes before rallying down the stretch to hold off the Salukis by double digits. Although a struggle, it was all about simply winning to get back on track.
“We made strides,” Calipari said. “Some guys didn’t play well. So move on (to the next game). Let’s figure it out.”
It took a while for Calipari's team to do just that Friday night. Although it was a struggle at times, Kentucky did take a step forward against Southern Illinois, which returned all of its starters from last season. Aside from 19 turnovers, most of which came in the first half, the Wildcats got a good effort from Immanuel Quickley, who scored 15 points and collected a pair of steals in his first start at point guard.
Quickley admitted getting over the Duke loss “was a little tough” but said the Wildcats are “resilient and will bounce back from any challenge throughout the season.”
“Our energy and effort were off the charts (down the stretch),” Quickley said. “We just have to keep getting better each and every game.”
In addition to Quickley, Nick Richards provided a boost in the post with 19 rebounds and three blocks, an inside presence the Wildcats lacked in the opener against the Duke.
“My team energy and effort and I just inserted myself into the game,” he said.
Since the loss to the Blue Devils, Calipari has been holding players more accountable in practice and using a treadmill to get his point across. He added he’s got a better idea of how to approach his team for the remainder of the season.
"There are certain things that are game in-house stuff that I'm demanding when we practice,” he said. “And we had some guys that got mad last practice. Got mad for holding them accountable. ... (the treadmill) is holding their feet to the fire to say this is what's acceptable. And what you'll see is a much more disciplined basketball team. That's not on these kids. That's on me. The way they played up there, each of them looked bad. Not one of them looked good. That's on me.”
Like Hinson, Calipari wants Big Blue Nation to ride it out until the Wildcats figure it out.
“Please stay with us,” he said. “If you're mad at anybody, you should be mad right at me, not these kids. They're going to do what I'm asking them to do. Obviously, I wasn't as disciplined myself or asking enough from them. But they get here, they find out, wow, this is hard.”
Gametracker: North Dakota at Kentucky, 9 p.m., Wednesday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.