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Sport 'They're fighting for their livelihoods.' UK's intensity can yield unintended results.

12:36  21 january  2020
12:36  21 january  2020 Source:   latimes.com

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Referees called 52 fouls against Kentucky players in last week’s two games. On average, that’s about a foul every 90 seconds.

a person standing in front of a crowd: Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley reacts to hitting a three pointer against Georgia during a 78-69 victory in a NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Athens.© Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley reacts to hitting a three pointer against Georgia during a 78-69 victory in a NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Athens.

At a news conference Monday, assistant coach Tony Barbee offered an explanation that UK fans might not have seriously considered.

“We did a lot of fouling,” Barbee said.

Barbee suggested that competitive practices that UK wants to produce the highly coveted will to win can also lead to excessive fouling. “Coach wants the practices to be harder than the game …,” Barbee said of UK Coach John Calipari. “And when they are that competitive, (UK players are) fighting their brothers and their teammates.

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“But they’re also fighting for their opportunities. Our guys, they’re fighting for their livelihoods.”

In other words, UK players are competing for playing time in the short term, and for a better NBA Draft profile in the long term.

This competitive zeal must be channeled so it does not lead to foul calls in games, Barbee said. “That competitive spirit kind of goes over the top sometimes,” Barbee said. “Because ‘I must stop my guy.’ And that turns into fouling.”

Another balancing act for UK coaches and players is to show mental and physical toughness while staying within the rules of the game.

Keion Brooks said the nature of Southeastern Conference basketball requires physical play.

“I mean, it’s the SEC,” he said when asked about UK’s 52 fouls (and the additional 50 called on the two opponents) last week. “It’s a physical league. I mean, you could probably call a foul on every single possession.”

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While UK was whistled for 18 fouls in the second half compared to eight in the first half, Arkansas had a similar increase: seven fouls in the first half and 15 in the second.

And Arkansas shot 22 free throws in the second half after eight in the first while UK shot 20 free throws in the second compared to seven in the first.

Brooks all but shrugged when asked about what he thought of Arkansas shooting 15 free throws in the second half before Kentucky shot its first with 6:53 remaining.

“I don’t really care about free throws they shot compared to us,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out there and make the right play and win the game.”

Calipari seemed to care. With 8:19 left, the referees hit him with two technical fouls and an automatic ejection.

Ashton Hagans said he tried to calm Calipari.

“I was, like, ‘Come on, Coach, we got this,’” Hagans said he told the UK coach.

UK outscoring Arkansas 17-2 in the five-plus minutes after the ejection led to speculation that Calipari wanted to be ejected so it could motivate his players.

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When asked if Calipari’s ejection inspired the players, Brooks said, “I wouldn’t say inspired. You know, obviously, it rubbed us the wrong way. It was a questionable call, and after that our coach gets thrown out of the game. On the road. We took it to go out there, continue to play hard and make the right plays.”

In the postgame news conference at Arkansas, associate coach Kenny Payne attributed UK’s 26 fouls, at least in part, to playing defense with hands down. It is a position that can put the thought of a foul call in a referee’s mind. UK teaches players to defend with their hands up and in plain view of the officials, Payne said.

Of a player mistakenly keeping his hands down while defending, Hagans said such things happen in the chaos of a game.

“Once you realize your hands are down, it’s too late (to adjust),” the UK point guard said. “We work on it a lot. (Referees) talk to us a lot about it. I guess that’s the discipline part.”

This season, Kentucky is averaging 17.8 fouls per game. That’s on pace for only the fifth-highest average of fouls in Calipari’s 11 seasons as coach. The highest average was 20.5 fouls per game in 2015-16. The lowest average was 14.8 in the national championship season of 2011-12.

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The 52 fouls called on Kentucky in last week’s two games might be an aberration. Maybe, as Barbee suggested, UK players just fouled too much.

When asked if Calipari had come to the realization that excessive fouling by UK led to the many calls, Barbee paused before answering.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You’ll have to ask him.”

Then Barbee said of the pointed question, “Nice try.”

———

TUESDAY

Georgia at No. 15 Kentucky

When: 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: Georgia 11-6 (1-3 SEC), Kentucky 13-4 (4-1)

Series: Kentucky leads 128-26

Last meeting: Kentucky won 78-69 on Jan. 7, 2020, at Athens, Ga.

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©2020 Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

Visit the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) at www.kentucky.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Related Slideshow: Best of the college basketball season (provided by imagn)

West Virginia Mountaineers forward Gabe Osabuohien (3) and Texas Longhorns guard Matt Coleman III (2) dive for a loose ball during the second half at WVU Coliseum on January 20, 2020. 

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