Capitals

Struggling Kentucky falls out of the Top 25

201212011236453838157-p2.jpeg

Struggling Kentucky falls out of the Top 25

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach John Calipari's latest group of talented freshmen may have gotten a needed wake-up call on Monday - the defending champs fell out of the Top 25.

The Wildcats opened the season ranked No. 3, dropped to No. 8 and after back-to-back losses to unranked Notre Dame and Baylor, their 61-poll run ended. The stretch included 11 weeks at No. 1 under Calipari.

The coach hasn't seen the kind of commitment needed to get better but says there's nothing wrong that more gym time can't correct. Calipari has often said this freshmen class needs more time to develop than their predecessors.

Kentucky's 4-3 and Calipari wants his team to put in the work to improve. But he says he's not seeing many gym rats on his roster right now.

``I keep telling you, we have a long way to go,'' Calipari said Monday. ``Individual players have to fall in love with that gym. They haven't yet. So, do they have to keep falling until they realize that because you have Kentucky across your chest that it makes them play harder. It doesn't give you any kind of edge.''

Calipari said last year's title squad was frequently in the gym, and not just when it was time for practice. He's waiting for that same enthusiasm from the Wildcats' current roster that he said hasn't spent ``one day'' in there on their own.

The coach said the failure to put in extra effort has shown up in recent games. The Wildcats haven't been able to impose their defensive will on opponents or make adjustments when things aren't going well. And since they haven't shot the ball well in their last two games (40 of 118, including just 8 of 36 from 3-point range), they have managed to score just 50 and 55 points in those contests.

It added up to a quick exit from college basketball's penthouse.

According to STATS LLC, they are the highest-ranked team to fall out of the poll in one week since it expanded to 25 in 1989-90 season. And on top of that, the loss to Baylor on Saturday ended the Wildcats' 54-game winning streak at Rupp Arena, which was the nation's longest active run.

How they lost to the Bears was especially frustrating for Kentucky.

The Wildcats cut a 10-point second half deficit to three but never got closer in the final five minutes. They had their chances, but didn't match the Bears' physicality.

For Calipari, whose teams have a reputation being physical, that was unacceptable. He has made that clear to his players.

``We've just got to be more competitive and work harder than the other team,'' Kentucky freshman forward Archie Goodwin. ``That's something historically his teams have done. Watching those teams growing up and watching how they play, I can see the difference in the way that they play and how tough they are. Compared to our team right now, that's something we have to work on.''

The work began Sunday.

The Wildcats put in two hard practices preparing for Tuesday night's game against Samford (2-7). There was a lot of running - which they've had to do a lot of with all the disappointment early on. But the players said one thing different about the workouts was making each other more accountable.

``If somebody made a mistake, we ran as a whole team,'' freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein said. ``We ended up running a lot of suicides.''

Before the workouts the Wildcats held a players-only meeting in which they discussed what needs to change in order for them to get on track. Goodwin said it was mainly to make sure everyone's on the same page.

Cauley-Stein, sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, freshman forward Alex Poythress and guard Julius Mays, a graduate student, deleted their Twitter accounts to help them get focused after an influx of negative comments following Saturday's loss.

``You can't say what you want to say on it anyway since it's all monitored,'' Cauley-Stein said. ``It was a lot more fun having Twitter as a high school kid.''

Calipari, who said fans should criticize him instead, was surprised to hear about the players' meeting. It could be a sign that his young players are willing to take some initiative.

Unlike last year's squad where freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist took on a leadership role, the Wildcats are still seeking that Type-A personality. Calipari warned that that leader might not emerge until February.

``Eventually someone will step up,'' he said. ``I'm still learning about the team and what it needs from me and what I need to instill in it.''

Quick Links

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

The Caps put together their best performance of the series Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series.

he win pulled Washington even with Columbus in the series 2-2.

Here's how the Caps got the big win.

4 Reasons why the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

1. Tom Wilson factors in the offense

Wilson’s hands are good for more than just punching.

He proved that again on Thursday as he scored the first goal for the second consecutive game. Chandler Stephenson and John Carlson provided the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky scrambling in the crease, Evgeny Kuznetsov passed the puck back to Wilson who fired the one-timer past the Columbus netminder.

In the first two games of the series, Wilson had no points and no shots. In the last two games, he has two goals and 13 shots on goal.

2. A great keep-in by John Carlson

We saw how dangerous it was when penalty killers fail to clear the puck in Game 1 when the Caps failed to clear in the third period leading to the game-tying power play goal.

In Game 4, the roles were reversed. Trying to kill off an Artemi Panarin penalty, Cam Atkinson attempted to clear the puck with the backhand. Carlson skillfully corralled the puck out of the air at the blue line to keep it in the zone.

The power play was able to reset and T.J. Oshie scored the rebound goal soon after.

3. Braden Holtby closes the door to finish the second period

After the Caps took the 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets made a late push to try to pull one back.

In the last 10 minutes of the second period, Columbus had 13 shot attempts, five of which were not net. Several of those shots were high-quality opportunities, but Holtby came up with the big saves that the team was not getting earlier in the series.

His play ensured the Caps took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.

4. Alex Ovechkin extends the lead to three

Washington entered the third period up 2-0. In each of the first three games, the Caps held a two-goal lead and allowed the Blue Jackets to battle back and tie the score. Even with a two-goal lead, it still felt at the start of the third that the next goal would decide the game. If Columbus pulled within one and got the crowd back on their side, we have seen what that momentum can do for them.

This time, however, Ovechkin struck first. After a board battle behind the net, the puck trickled out to the faceoff circle. Ovechkin grabbed it and quickly snapped the puck past Bobrovsky before anyone could react.

The goal gave Washington their first three-goal lead of the series and shut the Blue Jackets’ comeback down before it could begin.

RELATED LINKS:

Quick Links

Tarik's 3 stars: Ovechkin said Caps would even the series, on Thursday, he helped them do it

Tarik's 3 stars: Ovechkin said Caps would even the series, on Thursday, he helped them do it

COLUMBUS — Alex Ovechkin confidently predicted earlier this week that the Caps were going to win twice at Nationwide Arena and take their first round series back to Washington knotted, two games apiece.

And, on Thursday night, that’s exactly what Ovechkin made sure his team did.

No. 8, who was playing in his franchise-record 101st playoff game, scored his third goal of the playoffs early in the final frame and the Caps beat the Blue Jackets 4-1 in Game 4.

Tarik’s Three Stars of Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 4

1. Tom Wilson, Capitals

After a slow (and penalty-plagued) start to this series, Wilson has become a force. Yes, he took another minor, but the good is far outweighing the bad these days. Big Willy recorded a goal, an assist and a team-high seven shots. 

2. Braden Holtby, Capitals

Holtby had his best game in, well, a long time. He stopped 23 shots, including all eight he saw in a contentious second period.

The goal he surrendered was a nearly unstoppable tip-in by Boone Jenner.

3. T.J. Oshie, Capitals

Osh just plays the game so dang hard.

So it should come as no surprise that he delivered in his team’s biggest game of the season to this point. Oshie, of course, scored the game-winning goal on the power play midway through the second period.

It was No. 77’s second tally of the series. He also directed six shots at the Columbus net and made a couple of hits...all from a player who's been fighting through injury the past few weeks.

Agree? Disagree?

Let us know what you think in the comments.