UK basketball: Young Cats can't count on intimidation, Raftery says

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 28, 2013 

  • Next Game

    Kentucky vs. Providence

    When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

    TV: Fox Sports 1

Bill Raftery, who will be part of the Fox Sports crew calling Kentucky's game against Providence Sunday, used the word "necessities" to label what UK hopes to acquire this season.

"The necessities to be a champion," he said.

The starting point is talent, which Kentucky has. The question is how UK's seven McDonald's All-Americans and their teammates mesh into one effective unit.

Raftery noted that Kentucky does not have much of a veteran presence with the been there, done that experience to command the attention of its heralded freshmen. So UK Coach John Calipari and his staff must point the way.

"As good as they are, it's all about incorporating that talent into teamwork, trust and having each other's back," Raftery said. "Knowing the next guy is working just as hard or harder, maturing and coming together as a group."

That process continued Wednesday in UK's 81-63 victory over an unafraid Eastern Michigan team. That game should have reinforced the idea that opponents are not going to be overly impressed by accolades heaped upon the Kentucky players.

"The competition they're playing against isn't in awe of them," Raftery said. "All teams have a couple kids who can play. You've got to use effort, and don't use it sporadically."

UK players must still learn to prize each possession. Or as he put it, "Getting a big stop to increase the lead from four to six" points.

Providence, 6-1 going into Friday's game against Fairfield, makes for what Raftery called a "good, solid road test" for Kentucky. The Friars have two front-line players — LaDontae Henton and Kadeem Batts — who are on the verge of being 1,000-point scorers. Guard Bryce Cotton led the Big East in scoring last season (19.7 ppg).

Unlike UK's last two opponents (Cleveland State and Eastern Michigan), Providence doesn't figure to foul incessantly. So far, the Friars average only 17 fouls per game.

"They play with a lot of confidence," Raftery said of the Friars. "... They feel this is their year to make it to the NCAA Tournament."

Raftery called that kind of confidence "always dangerous."

Kentucky, 6-1, continues to make progress.

Dakari Johnson scored a career-high 10 points against Eastern Michigan.

"I think Dakari does some good things," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "He just hasn't figured it out yet. And when he does, it's just going to bring us up to a whole other level. Because he's a force to be reckoned with. In practice, he's doing what he's supposed to do. It just hasn't transitioned to a game yet."

Aaron Harrison noted the adjustment UK's freshmen must make to something as mundane as television time outs. "I'm not really used to it," he said. "In high school, you just play. So timeouts, TV timeouts really kind of stop the game. But sometimes it kind of helps you when you're tired."

As did Calipari, Harrison dismissed the notion of three-point shooting being a concern. Three-for-16 shooting against Eastern Michigan decreased UK's three-point accuracy to 28.9 percent. James Young, who is averaging a team-high 6.9 three-point shots a game, is shooting with 27.1-percent accuracy.

An area of concern?

"Nah, not really," said Harrison, who made three of seven against Eastern Michigan to increase his accuracy to 28.6 percent. "James is a great shooter. We've all seen him make 20, 25 in a row. All shooters have their little slump. I know it'll get better as the season goes on."

Julius Randle, who figures to face ever-tightening defenses, said UK had good shooters. "Maybe it's just a bad rhythm," he said, "or confidence."

After the Eastern Michigan game, Calipari noted encouraging signs. Cauley-Stein is "really confident in himself shooting free throws now," he said. Cauley-Stein made three of seven.

Aaron and Andrew Harrison "played harder, longer," Calipari said. "We got better."

Of course, the Cats aim to get better still. November to April provides plenty of time for improvement.

As everyone knows, what Raftery called a "work in progress" will proceed under the ever-watchful eye of Kentucky fans.

"It's expected, because there's a lot of expectations around here," Aaron Harrison said of the unblinking scrutiny. "And I knew that when I came here. Of course, everybody's going to make a big deal about every little thing they can. But we don't take it as a big deal.

"We just want to play hard, play harder than we are and just win."


Next Game

Kentucky vs. Providence

When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

TV: Fox Sports 1

Herald-Leader sportswriter Ben Roberts contributed to this article.Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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