UK Men's Basketball

'It's all starting to click now'

A buzzer beater at Louisville and a poor first half against Miami stand between Kentucky and a winning streak dating back more than two months.

The gathering force that is UK reached a new height last week with victories at Tennessee and Georgia. After the latter, Coach Billy Gillispie seemingly paid his team the ultimate compliment: The hustling effort on display made UK "his kind of team."

Which meant?

"Blue collar," wing Ramon Harris said on Tuesday. "Really play hard on the defensive end. Really compete."

Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo, whose team plays at Kentucky Wednesday night, has noticed. He lauded UK's defense, which has limited opponents to 36.7 percent shooting (among the top 10 in the country).

"I think where you really start with them is defensively," Lebo said. "They are one of the top teams in the country, defensively. They have size. They have strength. They have shot-blocking inside. They are not weak defensively at any position."

As Harris explained, the Cats also have understanding and acceptance of how Gillispie wants the games played. The last two months show a collection of players evolving into a knowledgeable team.

"We have a lot of new guys this year," Harris said. "It takes time for them to really understand — to really grasp — what he's trying to say. It's all starting to click now, and it's happening at the right time."

Team leaders Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks helped in the process. Gillispie praised their leadership in helping complementary players such as Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson and A.J. Stewart evolve.

"Jodie has really blossomed (as a leader) in the last month," Gillispie said. "Patrick has been solid ever since he got here."

When asked to elaborate on Meeks' improved leadership, Gillispie said, "More vocal. He's probably totally confident about playing. He's not worried about anything he's doing. Nothing's going on he doesn't know: offense, defense, transition, out-of-bounds plays."

The growing comfort level extends through much, if not all, of the team, Harris said. That translates into a team playing the way the coach wants.

"Guys are feeling more comfortable doing things," he said. "It's all starting to flow. There's more understanding within the team of how we have to play and what we have to do to help the team out."

Hence the "my kind of team" bouquet.

"For a coach to acknowledge you played the way he wanted you to, it's a good thing," Harris said. "You always have a smile on your face."

UK's desired style — hustling, battling, conceding nothing — reflects the coach, Harris said.

"Knowing he never quits," the UK player said. "That type of attitude reflects the team. Guys are starting to see that he just wants us to have a never-quit, never-die attitude."

It takes time for players to adjust to a coach's demands. That's part of the process of a team gathering strength to peak in the post-season.

"He's not going to let little things go," Harris said of Gillispie. "You can think the coach is hard on you, but he's just trying to get you better."

Harris acknowledged that it takes time to accept a coach's demands as constructive criticism.

"Sometimes you have your days," he said. "Every day is not going to be a perfect day. It's how you come back from the day that's not a good day.

"Guys have responded really well to that."

Apparently, Harris was prepared for Gillispie's never-ceasing demands before the coach got to UK. Of Gillispie, he said, "I wouldn't say he's the hardest (coach). But I'd say he's the most intense. My high school coach was something else. ...

"One time he said, 'If you think I'm on you, wait till you get to college.' "

A caller to Gillispie's radio show Monday voiced what seems to be a commonly held thought: the UK coach is like Bob Knight in breaking down players and then remaking them for a strong stretch drive. UK followed a similar path last season in losing early and playing its best in later games.

Harris did not endorse that theory. "I'd just say it's all starting to click around this time," he said. "One thing you can count on is coach is going to be him. When he steps between the four lines, he's going to be him. That's what makes the team better."

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