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Growing pains for young Wildcats
Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin heads up court during action with Notre Dame Nov. 29, 2012 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
LEXINGTON, Ky. Kentucky's John Calipari believes tough losses come with the territory when coaching a young team.
Like Thursday's 64-50 loss to Notre Dame.
Talented freshmen are nothing new for Calipari, but the inexperience of his No. 8 showed against the Fighting Irish. Freshmen Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin, who entered the game averaging a combined 37.4 points per game, finished with just six points between them.
Kentucky's second loss of the young season was much like its first.
The Wildcat youngsters were outmatched by another more-seasoned group. In the Wildcats' 75-68 loss to No. 2 Duke earlier this month, Calipari pointed to several attention lapses that the veteran Blue Devils exploited.
The loss also reinforced the coach's assessment of being "a November basketball team."
"We stopped playing, didn't compete," Calipari said Friday. "We didn't come up with 50-50 balls, didn't play for one another. We kind of separated a little bit, but that's the first road game and I knew we'd struggle, but I thought we'd compete. That's the surprising thing. We just didn't battle them."
The Wildcats had a Friday walk-through and film session to reflect on mistakes they hope to correct on Saturday when they host Baylor (4-2). The Bears are facing similar early season issues with young players after losing three starters from last year's Elite Eight squad that lost to Kentucky in the regional final.
In addition, Baylor shooting guard Brady Heslip missed last Saturday's 63-59 loss to College of Charleston after an emergency appendectomy. Bears coach Scott Drew said Heslip's availability against the WIldcats will be a game-time decision.
Calipari has different issues with his lineup.
The Wildcats are healthy for the most part, but Calipari is still trying to figure out how to use his two big freshmen — 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel and 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein — together on offense.
He also wants to use Goodwin at shooting guard instead of at the point and reduce his jump-shooting and fast-break scoring opportunities. Kentucky's half-court defense is also an issue.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey expects Calipari to have all of those matters addressed in short time.
"I'm glad we played them now," Brey said, "because they're really young and talented, and they're going to be better in January and February."
Calipari said it's possible Kentucky will get better, but it's not a given.
"I keep hearing, 'Cal's teams always get better as the year goes on and they'll be at their best,'" Calipari said. "Well, that's if you really work. If you fall in love with practice and improvement, if you're in love with that, we're going to get better.
"I like my team. But if we don't, I don't have a magic wand."