Mark Story: Kentucky has a ways to go at point guard

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 29, 2012 

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. — So this is how the other half lives.

In John Calipari's first year as Kentucky coach, UK had the wow-machine that was John Wall manning point guard. Cal's second season had resolute Brandon Knight playing quarterback.

Last year, Marquis Teague grew from a rough start into the point guard who led Calipari to his first NCAA title as a head coach.

Throw in Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans from Calipari's final two seasons at Memphis, and the coach is all but synonymous with dynamic point-guard play.

Which is why what happened to No. 8 Kentucky on Thursday night in Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion was so jarring. In UK's first true road game of the season, a veteran-stacked Notre Dame (7-1) whipped the Cats (4-2) 64-50.

It was the lowest point total and second-largest margin of defeat for Kentucky in the Calipari era. "We didn't execute," Calipari said afterward, "and we didn't play together."

Which is pretty much job one for your point guards.

As a partisan Notre Dame crowd of 9,149 roared, Calipari shuffled guards the way Steve Spurrier used to alternate quarterbacks. Archie Goodwin, Jarrod Polson and Ryan Harrow all got chances to engineer the UK offense.

None had much luck.

A week after torching Morehead State and LIU-Brooklyn, Goodwin looked like what he is: A true freshman two-guard having to play point because, at this point, UK has no other viable alternative.

Goodwin appeared to rush things early. At one point, he launched a 17-foot jumper; problem was, he was only 15 feet from the basket. Another time, the 6-foot-4 Little Rock product took a driving shot that was so errant it almost hit the shot clock.

He finished 1-for-7 from the floor with three points. He did have seven rebounds and five assists.

"Archie, he was playing out of control for the first time," Calipari said. "He hadn't played like that all year ... He was just out of control. In the end, I just said 'Don't worry about getting yourself shots; just get us some shots.'"

On a night when Calipari complained that his team was "out-competed," Polson at least battled. But the West Jessamine product missed two open jumpers and had only two points to show for 16 minutes of play.

Of course, in the pre-season, the expectation was that Harrow, the transfer from North Carolina State who practiced with the Cats all last season as a redshirt, would be the UK PG.

Then came his mysterious energy-depleting illness followed by a trip home for a family matter that combined to cause the sophomore to miss all but UK's season opener against Maryland.

Against Notre Dame, Harrow got back on the court and scored his first Kentucky field goal on a fast break. In nine minutes, however, he also missed his other three shots and drew Calipari's ire for leaving a corner on defense and giving up a key Notre Dame three-point shot.

"He played OK," Calipari said of Harrow. "I was angry he left that corner. ... But I was happy he went in and scored a basket. He wants to play, he's going to get opportunities, but he's got to play tougher, got to play with more energy."

Assuming that Harrow's health and any other problems are resolved to the point that UK can depend on him, Calipari might be wise to use December to see definitively what he has in the Marrietta, Ga., product.

As talented as Goodwin is, Kentucky's hopes of a third straight Final Four trip would probably be better served with a natural point guard running the point.

"It'll be interesting to see Harrow come back into that point guard role," said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, "so maybe Goodwin can get off the ball and do some stuff. I think that can be an interesting thing for them ... You wonder with Harrow back in a month, do they flow differently because they have that quarterback back?"

The good news, of course, for Kentucky is that college basketball seasons are defined by what happens in March and April, not in November.

Two NBA scouts sitting on press row Thursday night gave a pretty strong indication of which of Thursday night's teams has the most upside.

When Notre Dame had the ball, the scouts were not recording any information. But when UK had the basketball, they were furiously typing into their Blackberries.

Said Brey: "I'm glad we played them now, because they are really young and really talented and they are going to be better in January and February."

That is, if UK gets the point figured out.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: Markstory.bloginky.com.

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