John Clay: Eagles serve up good test for Cats

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 21, 2012 

Here's something Kentucky should give thanks for on this Thanksgiving.

The Cats can give thanks that Wednesday night they weren't playing a better team.

That's not to take anything away from Sean Woods' Morehead State Eagles, who play just as their wild, intense, borderline-abusive leader coaches on the sideline, getting in Kentucky's face for many of the 40 minutes at Rupp Arena.

In the end, John Calipari's Cats had enough to survive, pulling out an 81-70 win over the OVC team from down I-64 East, but you had to wonder if Morehead didn't reveal some chinks in UK's young armor.

Morehead was physical from the opening tip to the final horn. The Eagles bumped, shoved, grabbed, slapped and clutched on the way to 32 fouls, while Kentucky committed just 12.

And the Cats, not the most muscle-bound of teams, were definitely bothered by the Eagles' intensity, committing five early turnovers, giving up a 16-0 Morehead run in the first half, watching Morehead grab 16 offensive rebounds.

"We wanted to be aggressive defensively and offensively," said Drew Kelly. "They are a very young team, no knock on Kentucky, they're going to make a great run in the tournament, but we tried to play on their youth."

He may not have acted like it during the game, jumping and screaming, calling timeouts, but you know in the end Calipari had to love the test. He had said Tuesday that Morehead would play his young squad differently and that would be a good test.

"We needed it," said Calipari afterward. "This was a good game for us."

The coach said Morehead came after Kyle Wiltjer to make the forward guard on the defensive end. He said Willie Cauley-Stein was "overwhelmed" by the physical nature of the game.

He said he played Archie Goodwin too many minutes (36) but, "You may not believe this, I wanted to win the game," he said. "I wanted to win."

Kentucky righted the ship enough to get the victory, much to Morehead's chagrin.

"We want to win, man, we want to win," said Morehead's Milton Chavis.

"No moral victories," said Kelly.

UK was still without Ryan Harrow, who has now returned home for a family matter. The school says he expects to return Saturday. Goodwin started at the point and led the Cats with 28 points, but he's playing a position he wasn't expected to play, not to this extent, when the season began.

Kelly said Morehead had watched enough video on UK to know the Cats had not seen the type of pressure the Eagles played.

On the other hand, in not many games do you see a coach as intense with his players as Woods, the former UK point guard. When Morehead played Maryland last week, Maryland alum Scott Van Pelt of ESPN tweeted that he had never seen a coach as hostile on the sidelines with his own players.

There was more of the same Wednesday, including a situation between Woods and an emotional Devon Atkinson after the Eagle fouled out with 5:51 left.

"We're still learning how to be basketball players," said Woods, who added he was only trying to calm Atkinson down and teach him that the game was not over.

It did not appear that way, however. At one point he shoved Atkinson in the back as the player came to the bench.

"It doesn't bother us," said Chavis of Woods' sideline demeanor. "It's coaching. You have to accept coaching as a player."

"It doesn't make us uncomfortable," Kelly said. "We can handle it and it makes us better."

Kentucky can hope this pre-Thanksgiving test makes it better in the long run.

For that, it may end up giving thanks.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226Email: jclay@herald-leader.comTwitter: @johnclayivBlog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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