John Clay: Cats had too little Andrew, defense in exhibition games

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 5, 2013 

UK guard Andrew Harrison answered questions at University of Kentucky basketball media day on Tuesday October 15, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Takeaways from UK basketball's pre-season:

■ Because the assumed starting point guard did not play in either, you can almost throw out Kentucky's two exhibition games.

The hope is Andrew Harrison (bruised knee) will be back for Friday's opener. He could make the Cats an entirely different team.

■ One thing we know for sure after watching two games. The defense needs to improve. No one knows this more than John Calipari, who has said all along for these Cats to be a great team they must be a great defensive team.

The parts for a great defensive team are there. Next comes the desire.

■ Tuesday night's Champions Classic showdown against Michigan State in Chicago is going to come very quickly.

■ A sure sign this team is not quite a team yet: All those errant lob passes. They have much to do with timing. That few actually worked in two exhibition games shows that this team hasn't been together long enough to get its timing down.

■ Free throws are an early-season issue. UK made just 11 of 22 last Friday night against Transy. The final numbers were better on Monday. Kentucky made 18 of 25 overall. But after making their first nine, the Cats went nine-for-16.

■ James Young's wrong-basket heave — in soccer they call it an "own goal" — made the Today show. It would have been better on Hoda and Kathie Lee, who often appear to imbibe on the show. The clip of Young's shot might have been too intoxicating for even them.

■ Ever the coach, Calipari referred to the Young trick shot as a "teachable moment." Don't save the ball under your own basket. Or don't save the ball under the other team's basket.

■ Before you get too bent out of shape over the fact that the Cats didn't just blitz the Pioneers or the Falcons, Duke trailed Drury University, the defending Division II national champions, 38-34 at the half of a Saturday exhibition game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke is ranked No. 4 pre-season. (Duke won 81-65.)

■ And Bellarmine, which beat Montevallo for the 2012 Division II title, trailed Cincinnati 37-36 at the break of an exhibition game Sunday at UC. (Cincinnati won 84-72.)

■ Julius Randle's spin moves are a joy to watch, but Calipari is right when the coach said some alterations are needed. Opposing coaches know how to scout.

■ Most laid-back pre-season moment: After the Blue-White game, Willie Cauley-Stein was engaged with media members discussing the ins and outs of the Zombie Paintball Haunted Hayride.

■ As for the new rules, or the emphasis on the old rules forbidding contact, Friday's game with Transy was called tightly while Monday's game with Montevallo was called more loosely.

■ If Transy Coach Brian Lane ever gives up coaching, he should try broadcasting.

■ Rupp Arena is often too big for some players. It wasn't for Montevallo's Troran Brown, who heaved up 34 shots and scored 30 points.

■ Kentucky will have to guard the three-pointer. And will have to do so early. Rather than tread among UK's tall trees, both Transy and Montevallo opened the game by launching triples. Protecting the perimeter will be the focus all season long.

■ Trey Lyles, UK's newest 2014 commitment, said he told Calipari on Sunday he was picking Kentucky over Louisville, so how hard could the coach have worked his team that day? He probably couldn't stop smiling.

■ On Monday night, you could see what Calipari meant when he said he just wants Alex Poythress to be a finisher.

■ It was good to see Larry Conley back in town. And he will be back in town this weekend to do the TV analysis for the UNC-Asheville and Northern Kentucky games.

■ Head coach's line Monday night: "We got better. That's all I'm asking," Calipari said.

■ Player's line Monday night: "I think we'll play big the bigger the game," Aaron Harrison said.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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