UK Men's Basketball

Are Cats too fresh for their own good?

After his team provided cannon fodder for Kentucky's historic 2,000th victory, Drexel Coach James "Bruiser" Flint voiced a sobering thought.

"They have a lot of young guys," he said of the Cats. "In the heat of it, I always think young guys run out of gas sometime."

Of course, the heat increases dramatically after the holidays. After a shake-off-the-tinsel warmup against Hartford (2-9) on Tuesday, Kentucky faces an emotional reckoning against Louisville and then the 16-game Southeastern Conference schedule.

That might be why UK Coach John Calipari fretted about how the Cats turned it on in the second half to beat Long Beach State Wednesday.

"Now they're going to think we can play for a half and still win," he said. "C'mon, now. Not in our league."

Freshmen (and, in the case of Darnell Dodson, first-year players on the Division I level) have accounted for 62.9 percent of UK's points, 48.6 percent of the rebounds and 72.9 percent of the assists.

When asked about Flint suggesting Kentucky's younger players could hit the metaphorical wall later this season, Calipari did not disagree. "It could be," he said.

But the UK coach noted that depth might give UK some insurance should a freshman or two succumb to mental or physical fatigue.

With almost all of the freshmen, "We can kind of flip them in and out," Calipari said. "If DeMarcus (Cousins) hits the wall, I say, 'Oh, I feel bad for you, Daniel (Orton), get in there.' If Eric (Bledsoe) hits the wall, 'Eric, you know I love you. Sit down here. Go ahead. Ramon (Harris), get in there. You're all right. Just take a couple days off.' "

But John Wall is the exception to Calipari's flip-in-and-out insurance policy. Arguably, there's no one to replace Wall, the team leader in points (17.9 ppg), assists (6.8 apg), steals (2.5 spg). free-throw attempts (72) and free-throw makes (59).

More than once, Kentucky's performance has suffered when Wall went to the bench.

But is Wall susceptible to the kind of mental and physical fatigue that typically burdens freshmen?

That question brought a smile to Flint's face.

"I don't know about that," the Drexel coach said. "I don't think he's susceptible to anything."

Cousins dismissed the possibility of UK's freshmen struggling to sustain their productive play throughout the season.

"We'll be fine," he said dismissively. "I kind of feel I had my baddest point of the season at the early part of the season."

That was an apparent reference to the Cancun Challenge game against Stanford when Cousins failed to follow Calipari's orders to pass the ball (he shot a quick three-point attempt) and make a free throw with the Cats trailing late in a close game (he deliberately missed in a farfetched plan to grab the rebound).

Meanwhile, UK players — veterans and rookies alike — welcomed the Christmas break. They left basketball behind after Wednesday afternoon's game against Long Beach State and were not due back until Saturday night's practice.

Darius Miller said the team, players and coaches, were "worn down a little bit."

As Perry Stevenson noted, that certainly applied to the freshmen.

"They've been talking of going home for a couple weeks," he said. "They all miss their families like everybody else."