After the victory over Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday night, Coach John Calipari said that Kentucky played better with freshman point guard Marquis Teague on the bench. Upon further review, Calipari qualified the comment.
Calipari said a flurry of three-pointers in the second half made the key difference as the Cats rallied to beat UALR. Teague taking a seat on the bench was not as consequential.
But, Calipari added, Kentucky can be better with backup point guard Doron Lamb shifting from shooting guard in place of Teague.
"It gives us one more guy to guard (by the opponent)," Calipari said. "It opens up the lane a little bit."
In the last 12 games, Teague has made six of 30 three-point shots (20 percent accuracy). Lamb leads UK in three-point accuracy at 45.9 percent (28 of 61).
Terrence Jones noted the adjustment Teague must make from high-scoring high school player (22.7 points per game as a senior) to floor leader for a demanding coach like Calipari.
"I wouldn't want that job," Jones said. "It's difficult. It's frustrating at times. You're not used to it coming out of high school taking all the shots."
Calipari said freshman spark plug Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had returned to practice on Thursday. "He's fine," the UK coach said.
After the UALR game, Calipari said Kidd-Gilchrist had sustained an injury, probably a pulled muscle in the chest area, against Louisville last weekend.
Gamecocks like U of L?
Calipari likened South Carolina to Louisville. Each plays zone defense at times and relies on full-court pressure.
The Gamecocks "play a lot like Louisville plays," said Calipari, who suggested the Cats will be in "a war" against South Carolina.
'Hard part' begins
The beginning of Southeastern Conference play marks a step up, Calipari said.
"The level of talent goes up," he said. "The level of us knowing each other goes up. The intensity goes up."
Said Jones: "It's going to be a lot tougher than pre-season teams just because every team knows how we run our offense."
UK's freshman-oriented team understands the difference in league play, the UK coach said.
"They understand," Calipari said. "This is the hard part right now."
The beginning of SEC play is harder for some teams than others. South Carolina begins league play at Kentucky, then home to Vanderbilt and Florida. That represents three of the four best Ratings Percentage Index teams in the SEC heading into this weekend. UK is first at No. 9, Florida is third at No. 39 and Vandy fourth at No. 41.
The second-best RPI belongs to Alabama (No. 19), which plays host to South Carolina in the Gamecocks' fifth league game (Jan. 25).
By contrast, Kentucky opens against teams with the four worst RPIs: South Carolina (No. 187), at Auburn (No. 183), at Tennessee (No. 276) and home against Arkansas (No. 112).
Teams share aim
Noting how his team has one senior and one junior, South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn said he's set the goal of simply trying to improve day to day.
"Just a lot of growing and a lot of learning to do," he said. "We made it our priority from day one to make sure we're getting better. Ultimately, that's what's happening."
South Carolina has won four straight, and six of its last seven.
Calipari spoke of a similar objective.
"One of my messages is we don't have to win every game," the UK coach said. "We just have to get better. Let's just worry about getting better. You and I know if this team gets better, we'll be where we need to be."
When asked about his appeal earlier this week to state legislators for funds to help UK make campus upgrades, Calipari said, "Sixty-year-old dorms, I hate to tell you, just don't cut it. Communal baths, 30-person showers, dudes don't like it anymore. The world is changing."
Carter Blackburn and Kyle Macy will call the game for the SEC Network (WKYT-27).