COLUMBIA, S.C. — Kentucky's 58-43 victory at South Carolina on Saturday might further fuel the ongoing debate about which point guard is better: Sophomore Andrew Harrison or freshman Tyler Ulis.
On Thursday, Coach John Calipari jokingly suggested the scapegoating of Harrison extends to blame for rainy days in Lexington. After Harrison's 1-for-5 shooting game here, which included two assists, two turnovers and more than one instance of picking up his dribble at ill-advised times, Calipari likened him to one of his former All-Americans at Memphis: Derrick Rose.
"Of all the players I've coached, he cared more about how he was playing, even more than Andrew," the UK coach said. "I've never seen a player internalize like Derrick Rose. To the point he couldn't get by mistakes."
Ulis, a darling of UK fans, only made one of four shots, but he got credit for six assists and committed only one turnover. His steal and fast-break layup put UK ahead for good at 25-24 and began an 11-0 run to end the first half.
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At the Southeastern Conference Media Days in October, Calipari said that Harrison cared too much about playing well.
The difference between Rose and Harrison is the former let frustration fuel even more determination to play well, the UK coach said after the victory at South Carolina.
Harrison "sometimes backs up instead of stepping on the gas," Calipari said. "But he's learning. These kids are so young. He's a sophomore. He's a sophomore! We all forget. In his second year, he's learning. (Harrison is) so much better than a year ago. Not even close."
Harrison is personable, "funny" and popular with his teammates, Calipari said. "My thing is be that person on the court."
'God, is he good'
South Carolina Coach Frank Martin gushed about Devin Booker, who led UK with 18 points.
"God, is he good," Martin said. "He's big. If you don't get to him, he just elevates and shoots it at — what? — 61 percent?"
Actually, Booker's 6-for-9 shooting here moved his accuracy to 56.1 percent in Southeastern Conference play.
"If you get to him, he's one or two dribbles, stop and jump over top of you and make that shot."
Martin noted how the presence of so many talented teammates, including a shooter like Aaron Harrison, frees Booker from the "burden" of having to make shots.
Booker, the SEC's Freshman of the Week the last two weeks, will be in an emotional game when Kentucky plays at Missouri on Thursday. His father, Melvin Booker, played for Mizzou.
Noting his closeness to the Missouri coaches, Booker said, "They've recruited me since the seventh or eighth grade. I still have love for Missouri because my dad went there. It's another game, but, obviously, it's a rivalry."
With a noon tip-off, Calipari said he gave his players a choice about whether or not to do a morning shootaround at about 7 a.m.
"Take four or five minutes to decide," Calipari said he told the players. "They decided in, hmmm, 15 seconds."
UK did not stage a shootaround.
"I trust them," Calipari said.
The UK coach said he wanted to reward the players for their determined and exuberant play.
"I'm trying to give them days off," Calipari said, "because the effort they're playing with is crazy."
For a large portion of the game, Kentucky went with a lineup of three perimeter players and two big men.
"I feel like we had to go to it because they were playing us rough and they were picking us up full-court, so we needed some more ball handlers out there," Booker said.
But Booker disagreed with the implication that Trey Lyles is not a perimeter player.
"Well, I consider Trey a perimeter player also now," Booker said. "He's expanded his game a lot since being here (this) year. You see him making the in-between game all the time. The 15-foot jumper, he's always making it."
With a warm smile, Booker offered a clarification on the air ball he shot in the final minutes against Vanderbilt last week. In saying players' fortunes can rise and fall, Calipari had noted that Booker had gone from hot shooter to air-ball launcher.
"It wasn't an air ball," Booker said. "I have to clear that up. It was tipped. Most people don't know that."
■ Willie Cauley-Stein's two steals were historic. He became the first UK player to amass 100 steals and 200 blocks.
■ Calipari improved his UK record to 171-37. After Adolph Rupp's first 208 games, his record was 169-39. Said Martin of Calipari: "I've heard people say he can't coach. What a joke!"