John Clay: UK takes care of business, sets its sights on Louisville

Cats still showing room to improve

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 29, 2011 

Louisville got a loss.

Kentucky got Terrence Jones back.

We're thinking ahead to Saturday. It's time. It's past time. UK-U of L. High noon. CBS will bring its cameras to town. The prelims are out of the way. Thankfully.

Georgetown rolled into the KFC Yum Center and removed Louisville from the list of unbeatens Wednesday night, knocking off the Cards 71-68. Chane Behanan's undefeated projection goes unfulfilled. Perhaps Rick Pitino may be thinking of moving up that retirement date.

Meanwhile, in Rupp, Terrence Jones changed out of those street clothes, wrapped up that sore pinky on his shooting hand, and went back to work. The sophomore forward didn't look all the way back. But he looked much more like the old Terrence as Kentucky beat Lamar 86-64.

Tuesday, the Cats took great pains to say they were preparing for the Lamar Cardinals not the Louisville Cardinals. They were taking one bird before the other. But Wednesday night, we watched the game with one eye on the here and now — precious present, a coach might say — and the other peeking three days ahead.

The good: For this Kentucky team to be all that this Kentucky team can be, Jones has to play to his potential. No one could expect him to do that against Lamar, given the Oregon native's rustiness from sitting out the past two games with his dislocated finger. But he got involved, even if he was still favoring his hand a bit.

He missed an inside shot in the first half, then immediately grabbed his hand. He's not 100 percent, but he's closer than he was a week or so ago. Jones had nine points, six rebounds in 27 minutes. On the road back, that's a start.

The bad: Marquis Teague struggled a bit. The freshman point guard has to be ready Saturday. With a loss under its belt, Louisville will turn up the heat on that press that John Calipari has already described (indirectly) as one that will grab, pull and slap to get the ball. And that was when Louisville was without a loss.

"He was trying to score when guys were wide open," said Calipari afterward.

The good: If Kentucky isn't the best defensive team in the nation, the Cats have to be close. No team has come close to shooting 50 percent against UK this season. Lamar didn't make it to 40 percent. Pat Knight's team shot 38.5 percent, though Mike James led all scorers with 29.

The bad: Board work. Not what you'd expect from the lengthy Cats. Lamar outrebounded Kentucky 21-19 in the first half. It ended up 36-36.

"The thing that bothered me is that they got 14 offensive rebounds," Calipari said.

The good: Kentucky made 27 of 33 free throws for 81.8 percent. We all know foul shooting isn't this team's strength, or has not been to this point. But, who knows, come late in the game Saturday afternoon it could be a Cat at the line with everything on the line.

The bad: Probably the majority of Kentucky fans don't believe it will come to that. UK is talented. Louisville is overrated. To them, the Hoyas exposed the Cards. And Saturday, UK will turn the exposé into an easy win.

Don't be so sure. The Louisville loss is likely to bring the Cardinals out fighting. They don't want to lose two in a row, in the same week. One being the Big East open. The other being to the archrival.

You think Pitino wants to lose another in Rupp?

Calipari knows that. The coach wasn't happy after Wednesday's win. Not in the post-game news conference, anyway. He said he wasn't in the right frame of mind to discuss Louisville. He said he was "agitated" and that his team has not gotten better.

He said if things didn't change, "well start taking Ls."

Said the coach, "If we don't play any better, we'll get beat on Saturday."

Wednesday is Wednesday.

Saturday is a different day.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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