Perseverance — or a short memory — earned freshman Eric Bledsoe a pat on the back from Kentucky Coach John Calipari on Saturday.
Two fouls sent Bledsoe to the bench barely three minutes into the game and contributed to a season-low 17 minutes. When he re-emerged early in the second half in relief of the cramping John Wall, Bledsoe immediately walked. That began a second half of three turnovers and 2-for-7 shooting.
But with the game on the line, Bledsoe was Kentucky's captain clutch. He scored seven of his nine points in the final 2:31, including five of six free throws.
"He basically won the game," Calipari said.
But what impressed the UK coach even more was Bledsoe not letting his earlier struggles overshadow the team objective.
"What Eric was was a lesson for everyone," Calipari said.
Calipari noted Bledsoe's eagerness to make big plays. In that department, Bledsoe apparently leads the team.
"We have one guy who knows he's making plays," Calipari said. "And I think John Wall is starting to say 'I know I'll make the play.' "
Bledsoe's 5-for-6 free-throw shooting actually lowered his season accuracy to 86.9. He said he imagines himself alone in a gym when he's shooting free throws.
Bledsoe makes short work of his free throws. One bounce and shoot.
"I just think it's going in," he said. "I don't need to twirl the ball or bounce it three or four times. That's a waste of time for me."
Oh those turnovers
Wall and Bledsoe combined for 11 of UK's 21 turnovers.
"If they have four, five or six, then we're right where we want to be," Calipari said.
Wall's seven turnovers were a season high.
Bledsoe cited frustration as a factor for his four turnovers in 17 minutes.
"I'm trying to make plays and coach, he's yelling (and) trying to make me get in a play," Bledsoe said. "... I'm a freshman. That's the problem."
Calipari noted the contributions of freshman Daniel Orton. Despite going scoreless in 18 minutes, Orton had four rebounds, two blocks, a steal and an assist.
But numbers were not what Calipari cited.
"The game changed in the first half because of Daniel Orton's intensity," Calipari said.
Orton and Ramon Harris replaced DeMarcus Cousins and Bledsoe with 16:46 left in the first half. At that point, UK trailed 9-2.
New P.A. man
Illness caused Rupp Arena public address announcer Patrick Whitmer to miss the game. His replacement, Donnie Hart, does P.A. work for the UK's women's basketball and volleyball teams.
UK won despite shooting a season-low 44.4 percent. The previous low was 44.6 percent against Stanford. ... Former referee John Clougherty, now the supervisor of ACC officials, attended the first half. He then rushed to the airport to fly to Atlanta to watch Georgia Tech play Southern Cal Saturday night. ... Former UNC big man Eric Montross briefly played for Calipari with the New Jersey Nets. Montross said that during his eight-week stint as a Net Calipari instilled a fun atmosphere. ... Kentucky plays again Wednesday against No. 14 Connecticut in New York. Tip-off on ESPN is scheduled for 9:30 p.m.