CANCUN, Mexico — Kentucky Coach John Calipari was not happy with how his team beat Cleveland State 73-49 on Tuesday.
But one UK player improved the coach's mood: Ramon Harris.
"I've got to brag on a kid," Calipari said in his post-game news conference.
Harris continues to almost flounder offensively. Against Cleveland State, he made his first basket of the season and improved his shooting accuracy to 1-for-8 (0-for-5 from three-point range, 1-for-3 from the foul line). He also committed two turnovers to make his assist-to-turnover ratio three-to-nine.
Yet Calipari noted Harris' defense (physical and in communication with teammates) and rebounding. "He changed the game around," the UK coach said. "... Every day I watch him, he's impressing me more and more. Great kid, and he's trying.
"Offensively, he does some stuff. I'm trying to get him to just do what you can do."
Harris said that Calipari simply wants him to make simple plays.
"Just make the easy play; that's what he wants," Harris said.
As in the past two seasons with former UK coach Billy Gillispie, Harris has gotten playing time by being a willing defender. Against Cleveland State, Calipari had Harris cool off the Vikings' star guard, Norris Cole (2-for-10 shooting after making his first against John Wall).
Also like last season, Harris had his usual scary-looking injury. This time, he fell to the floor after a put-back late in the first half, and he clutched his right knee.
Then UK's Lazarus recovered and started the second half.
"As I came down, he tried to box me out," Harris said of a Cleveland State player, who moved "right into my knee. ...
"I was just praying it was not something to keep me out for a long time. I just don't want to go through injury after injury again."
Freshman Eric Bledsoe committed four turnovers to push his team-high total this season to 26. That's an average of 5.2 a game.
Most memorably, Bledsoe had the ball taken from him near midcourt late in the first half. As the teams left the floor at halftime, UK assistant Rod Strickland (a former NBA point guard) talked with Bledsoe.
"Eric Bledsoe's got to practice harder so games are easier," Calipari said. "The game looks hard because his pace and intensity are not near to what others players (have). You know why? I've let him. Because of an ankle (injury). It's done."
With 3:26 left in the game, UK freshman DeMarcus Cousins got a technical foul for a forearm that sent Cleveland State's Jared Cunningham to the floor. Calipari said Cousins was retaliating for being stepped on intentionally by another Cleveland State player, Aaron Pogue.
As a high school player, Cousins had a reputation as a ticking time bomb.
"The kid's come a long way because he (only) did that," Calipari said of the forearm. "A long way."
UK foes win
The two Mexico-bound teams that Kentucky beat last week en route to the Cancun Challenge won their games.
Rider topped Florida A&M 88-73 in the first game. Then Sam Houston State beat Oral Roberts 71-65.
Sam Houston State put a scare in Kentucky by making 18 three-pointers. That was a record for a UK opponent.
But against Oral Roberts, Sam Houston State made only one of 12 three-point shots. Corey Allmond, who hit a Rupp Arena-record 11 three-pointers against UK, made the only three.