After the 93-63 beatdown of Northern Kentucky Sunday, Kentucky players delivered a mixed message about the highly-anticipated game against Michigan State on Tuesday.
Willie Cauley-Stein insisted it was just another game.
"It's the next one on the list," he said. "I'll be just as excited if we were playing Transy again."
UK played Transylvania in its first pre-season exhibition.
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Teammate Julius Randle sounded much more eager to play in the first No. 1-versus-No. 2 game in five years.
"I love competition," he said. "Type of stuff we live for," Randle said of Tuesday's game. "Bring it on."
Randle dismissed the prevailing notion — espoused by UK Coach John Calipari among others — that the game pits Michigan State's experience and maturity against the latest edition of the Kiddie Cats.
"I'm not buying into it," he said. "We play the same game. ... People think we're inexperienced (and) we're young. They don't know what to expect from us in that game. And I look at that as a way to show we are ready. ... That game is going to be a big challenge for us, but I think guys are going to step up."
Ironically, Cauley-Stein cited experience to explain his reluctance to embrace the Michigan State game as something special. He recalled getting caught up in the moment when he took over at center at Tennessee last season after Nerlens Noel suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament four nights earlier.
"I had two points, I think," he said correctly. Two points, two rebounds, four turnovers and five fouls in 23 minutes.
"It still haunts me," Cauley-Stein said. "I fed into the hype way too soon. Now, I know how that feeling is, and I'm trying to keep it away from me."
Pressure at point guard
Once more, a UK player acknowledged that Calipari concentrates his "coaching" more on the point guard than any other position.
"Definitely harder on the point than any other position," Cauley-Stein said, "because you've got to be the floor general, and you've got to be vocal, and you've got to run the team.
"I can understand why he puts so much pressure on them. He's trying to see if they're going to cave or not."
No one expects freshman Andrew Harrison to cave.
"I embrace it, because when I'm not doing it right he definitely lets me know," Harrison said. "I don't worry about it. I just try to play as hard as I can and do what he says."
Harrison acknowledged the need to have a thick emotional hide to play point guard for Calipari.
"Definitely," he said. "You have to be very mentally strong. ...
"It's fun playing for him, but at the same time it's tough. You have to be tough and you have to know that whatever he says, he's trying to help. You can't really take it personally. You just have to play. And if you're playing hard, he doesn't really have too much to say."
Calipari's demands are nothing new. Harrison said he experienced similar coaching from his father, Aaron Harrison, Sr., on the AAU level.
"I knew I could stand it, because he can't say nothing worse than my dad ever told me," Harrison said. "My dad was my coach, and I knew I had to be mentally strong. To me, it's just him helping me. I don't really take offense. I know he's just trying to do the best for me. So I don't really worry about it."
Harrison described the practices his father conducted as "a lot of yelling, a lot of screaming. But it definitely made me a mentally strong man."
Cauley-Stein credited Harrison with being a key to Kentucky's season.
"He's going to bring energy and fire," Cauley-Stein said. "... We all feed off him."
Earlier in the week, Calipari said it was "no fair" to pit a freshman-oriented team like Kentucky against a veteran team like Michigan State in the third game of the season. That sounded disingenuous given that Calipari has veto power on the schedule (goodbye Indiana) and he's in the process of adding another event like the one that brings UK and Michigan State together.
Randle tried to sidestep a direct answer when asked if Calipari really meant that the Michigan State game was not fair.
"You guys have known him longer than me," Randle told reporters. "You tell me."
Then he added, "I think he's just challenging us."
A fair question might be to ask how can Cauley-Stein consider Tuesday as just another game when it matches No. 1 vervus No. 2?
"To who, though?" he asked. "I mean, to the outside world, it's one versus two. But we played one game (actually, two). YOu can't really tell who's one or two. It's just hype."