UK basketball notes: Nerlens Noel earns SEC honor for third straight week

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 4, 2013 

Kentucky Mississippi Basketball

Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel swatted away a layup attempt by Mississippi forward Murphy Holloway on Jan. 29. Noel had a school-record 12 blocks in that game and scored a career-high 19 points in a subsequent win over Texas A&M. He was named Southeastern Conference freshman of the week for the third straight week.

ROGELIO V. SOLIS — Associated Press

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

For the first time since John Wall played for Kentucky, the Southeastern Conference named the same player freshman of the week three straight times.

The SEC bestowed this hat trick of recognition on Nerlens Noel when it named the UK big man its freshman of the week again Monday. Last week he blocked a school-record 12 shots at Mississippi, then scored a career-high 19 points at Texas A&M. The Cats won both games.

The SEC named Wall its freshman of the week four straight times in November and December 2009.

Noel now leads the nation in shot-blocking. Through games of last weekend, the NCAA lists Noel No. 1 in blocks with an average of 4.62. That leads Chris Obekpa of St. John's (4.50) and Jeff Withey of Kansas (4.24), who are second and third.

When asked on the SEC teleconference about how Noel and his UK predecessor last season, Anthony Davis, affected games, Coach John Calipari said, "When those two are out of the game, it's amazing how many layups are shot. Those guys change a little bit of the complexion of games."

South Carolina Coach Frank Martin, whose team plays at Kentucky on Tuesday, used a reference from the 1980s (think Marvin Webster) to describe Noel's impact.

In lauding UK's defense, Martin said, "It starts on top. There's ball pressure."

And when opposing guards get past perimeter defenders, Martin said, "Then you have just a human eraser back there who protects the rim."

Scrappy

Kyle Wiltjer used the word "scrappy" to describe South Carolina. Calipari said the Gamecocks try to "muck up" games and make them a competition of willpower and effort.

South Carolina's willpower remains good despite losing six of its last seven games, Martin said.

"This is the hardest part of the year, whether you have a winning record or a losing record," he said. "Because the games don't get easier. They get harder.

"So your spirit has to be stronger. Your effort has to be tougher. Your discipline has to be greater."

Martin chastised himself for last week's losses at Florida by 39 and at home to Georgia by 11.

"I did an absolute awful job coaching my team last week," he said, "and we went out and played that way."

Martin said he's asking his players to fight for a "culture" that he's trying to establish for South Carolina basketball. He seemed to say he was too accepting of defeat last week.

"If I'm not willing to fight for it myself, and I'm not willing to hold them accountable to fight for it, then I can't stand back and say, 'Well, we didn't play well.' That's not fair to the players. ...

"I got too concerned with opponents rather than helping our team continue to find their identity and fight for that culture."

MKG

Former UK player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has returned to the Charlotte Bobcats. He had to be carted off the floor after a nasty fall in a game last weekend.

MKG accompanied the team to Miami, but he's not expected to play. He must first pass neurological tests to be cleared to play under NBA protocol for concussions. He can't start taking those tests until he's symptom-free.

Mental discipline

As UK's presumptive defensive stopper on the perimeter, it appears freshman Archie Goodwin's flesh is willing, but his spirit is weak.

"No mental discipline," Calipari said of Goodwin's inability, for now, to be the stopper. Teammates Ryan Harrow and Alex Poythress also lack this quality, the coach said.

"If they do something (bad) on offense, their heads go down," Calipari said. "Then they can't play defense."

That's typical of freshmen, with the exception of Kidd-Gilchrist, Calipari said. So Julius Mays, a fifth-year senior, got the assignment of guarding Texas A&M's Elston Turner late in Saturday's game.

"(Mays) had the discipline to guard that kid on every bounce (and) every second," Calipari said. "He knew how important it was."

Memory lapse

On UK's to-do list: Improving the ability to finish off opponents and/or prevent double-digit leads from dwindling to practically nothing. Ole Miss rallied from 17 points down to get within one, 73-72. Then A&M erased UK's eight-point lead in the final 3:11 of regulation.

"And that's all mindset," Calipari said. "That's all that is."

Said Kyle Wiltjer: "We know every team is going to make their run. Now, we just need to keep working on improving and not letting that rattle us."

Calipari is encouraging "short-term memory," Wiltjer said, "Not let it affect us."

Etc.

Dave Neal and Dino Gaudio will call the UK-South Carolina game for ESPNU.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: UKbasketball.bloginky.com.

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