John Clay: Cal says Cats could lose every one of their next three games

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 27, 2013 

So the Kentucky Wildcats, champions of the Bill Keightley Classic, take this work in progress on the road up to the Big Apple and New York, New York, on Sunday night.

Here's your Thanksgiving Day question to ponder over your turkey: Are they ready?

Providence isn't a bad opponent. Kentucky's foe Sunday night is 6-1 heading into a game with Fairfield on Friday. The Friars have some talent.

"These next games were playing, we can lose every one," John Calipari said Wednesday night. "These guys don't understand that, but I think they will."

The Kentucky coach said that right after his team had knocked off previously undefeated Eastern Michigan 81-63 at Rupp Arena in what was a fouled-filled, grind-it-out sort of basketball game that had the critics of the new refereeing guidelines howling.

In fact, you could make a case that the most entertaining moment of the whole affair was when, while serving as the co-Y in the traditional K-e-n-t-u-c-k-y Ashley Judd had the Rupp crowd sing "Happy Birthday" to Joe B. Hall, who turns 85 years young on Saturday.

But getting back to our Turkey Day subject, while Wednesday night's contest may have lacked in artistry, it did provide some encouraging signs.

"We got better," said Calipari.

Coached by former Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy, Eastern Michigan played an accomplished 2-3 zone defense that gave the Cats problems for a half, at least. In fact, shooting over that zone, the Cats made just three of 16 three-pointers.

Kentucky turned it over 20 times —— "Too many," said Calipari —— with James Young, Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle turning it over five times each.

"They're throwing 19 guys at him," said Calipari when asked about Randle's mounting turnover count.

And speaking of the talented Texan, he didn't score a point and had just one rebound in the first half thanks to two fouls, which put him on the bench for quite a while.

And yet, unlike Monday night when Calipari's club needed a seven-minute surge at game's end to catch and pass Cleveland State, the Cats led pretty much throughout and pulled away at the end.

Willie Cauley-Stein was a big reason, probably the main reason. The sophomore scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked seven shots and gave his team a jolt of electricity, especially early in the second half.

"He was everywhere," said Murphy.

Then Randle got it going in the final 20 minutes to get his seventh double-double in seven games, this time with 14 points and 10 boards.

"Their size got the best of us," said Murphy. "They made it tough on us in the interior."

That's one deduction we have made these first seven games: This is not the quickest Kentucky team. It is, however, the longest Kentucky team.

And if, at times, it has a difficult time playing the opponent down on the floor, it can make up for that (so far, anyway) around the rim.

The Cats shot just 18.8 percent from three, but, by my count, they converted five lobs into baskets.

"The twins, everybody says they're not that quick," said Murphy of Aaron and Andrew Harrison, "but they do a good job of playing angles."

And they have teammates underneath that can erase mistakes. The Cats blocked nine shots and were called for goaltending on four more.

By the way, look for Cauley-Stein to be in the starting lineup Sunday night in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

"He was going to start tonight," said Calipari who had put Marcus Lee in the starting lineup over Cauley-Stein to win the tip, "but John Robic (a UK assistant coach) screwed it up."

Ok, but back to the start. The last time UK took its show on the road it was to Chicago, where in an "unfair" fight the Cats lost to now-No. 1 Michigan State.

Next stop: New York.

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

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