John Clay: An 'L' for Cats — for learning experience

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 14, 2012 

ATLANTA — To a Kentucky fan's thinking, any month of the year, any day of the month, any minute of the day is a good time to beat Duke in basketball. But in the words of Mick Jagger, you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need.

Kentucky needed what happened Tuesday night in the Georgia Dome.

So did college basketball, for that matter.

There were Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari and Dick Vitale, along with a full-throated contingent of a Big Blue fan base shouting down the Duke supporters in a great basketball setting in more of a college football/pro football town.

Duke ended up winning 75-68, however, not because of who was there but in large part because of what happened when major players were not there.

For Kentucky, that would be starting point guard Ryan Harrow, left back in Lexington with flu-like symptoms.

For Duke, that would be Mason Plumlee, the 6-foot-11 senior center, who picked up his fourth foul with 16:05 left in the second half and the Devils holding a 43-37 lead.

That would have been the time for Kentucky to pounce. UK Coach John Calipari tried. He threw Willie Cauley-Stein into the game for a Twin Towers tandem with Nerlens Noel. Surely they would have their way, make hay with Duke's backup post man, the 6-8 Josh Hairston.

Didn't happen. Duke not only held the lead, the Devils extended it, going on a 12-7 run. When Plumlee departed the bench, the Duke lead was six points. When he returned at the 10:05 mark, the Duke lead was 11 at 55-44.

That was pretty much the game, though there was certainly much more to it. Kentucky made it a game at the end, going on a 9-0 run to slash the Blue Devils' 12-point advantage to three, 64-61, when Archie Goodwin scored on a drive with 3:29 left.

"When we got it to three," Calipari said, "I thought we were going to win this. But then (Duke) made their free throws."

The older, veteran Devils went into clamp-down mode to finish the job.

"Kentucky is so athletic," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. "And they're good."

And Kentucky is still so young. UK freshmen scored 56 of the Cats' 68 points. Forward Alex Poythress played like the advertised Alex Poythress, his game on a pogo stick, skying for 20 points and eight rebounds.

"He was a beast," Calipari said. "That's what he needs to be, a beast. You're not a two-guard. You're a beast. Be a beast."

Battling Plumlee, Noel scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Goodwin, while running the point, an unfamiliar position for the shooting guard, also scored 16 points.

There was also the thing about Calipari's halftime comments to ESPN's Andy Katz. The UK coach said that Duke, which drew four charging fouls in the first half, would get fined for flopping if in the NBA.

"That was a joke," said Calipari after the game, adding that surely Duke knows a joke when it hears one.

Coach K wouldn't take the bait on the flop flap, but when asked about the difference in the game, he said, "Veterans and talent. I'd like to have some of (Kentucky's) talent."

Now the Cats have to get to the part where they are veterans, if only one-season veterans.

"We're trying to figure things out," Calipari said. "We're not even sure how we're going to play. ... We're a November them right now, and we have to get better."

Remember, November is for placement tests. March is for final exams.

"There won't be another one of these until March," said Krzyzewski of the NCAA Tournament-like atmosphere in the Georgia Dome.

That's the one you really want to win.

John Clay: 859-231-3226. E-mail: jclay@herald-leader.com. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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