UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky basketball: Calipari says close game would be useful for Cats

UK Coach John Calipari
UK Coach John Calipari

When — or even if — Kentucky needs a clutch basket in the final minutes of a close game, there should be no confusion about which player on its deep roster will take it.

UK Coach John Calipari offered air-tight assurances Friday that Aaron Harrison will take that shot. The only question about it is whether such an occasion ever occurs.

"If it's late-game and it's tight, who do you think I'm going to go to?" Calipari asked media types. "I don't care if he's shooting 12 percent, I'm going to him. And the reason is demonstrated performance. I've seen it. I know.

"I'm not testing the waters with other guys."

Of course, Harrison made clutch shots in three straight games in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. His jumpers helped UK outlast Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin in a thrice-in-a-lifetime display over a nine-day period.

"He believes he's making it," Calipari said of Harrison. "Everybody in the building believes he's making it. The other team believes he's making it. We just have to create it so he gets it off."

Calipari dismissed the notion of calling upon another player to make a shot, if only to test that player's capabilities, when Kentucky leads by its typically healthy margin.

"Healthy margin, it doesn't matter," the UK coach said. "Game on the line, I ain't taking any chances."

Dusting off one of his pet labels, Calipari noted how "demonstrated performance" made Harrison a performer to trust in the clutch. He recalled a UMass huddle when he called a play for a player with the game on the line.

"I look," Calipari said. "When his knees start shaking and his eyes start to roll into his head, (the coach yells) 'Hold it!'"

Calipari then ordered a play be run with variable options. "No one knew who was going to shoot it," he said. "We don't even have that play yet because he have Aaron."

Perhaps as soon as Sunday when Kentucky plays Providence, Harrison will again have the chance to take and make a pressure shot. It sure hasn't happened yet. Through six games, the Cats have trailed only once in a second half, and never with less than 13 minutes left. So far, Kentucky has led at halftime by an average of 18 points.

"Yes, of course, we want to be pushed ... ," freshman Tyler Ulis said. "so we can see what we're really about as a team (and) see what we can do under pressure."

Teammate Dakari Johnson agreed that close games hold appeal.

"Just to see in that situation how people react," he said. "It's a learning experience, too."

Five of the seven opponents remaining on UK's non-conference schedule were either ranked or received votes in The Associated Press media poll this week.

After Providence, which received votes, comes No. 7 Texas on Friday, No. 5 North Carolina on Dec. 13, No. 22 UCLA on Dec. 20 and No. 6 Louisville on Dec. 27.

Calipari, whose team has won its first six games by an average margin of 36.8 points per game, welcomed the prospect of a possession-by-possession test of nerve and will.

"What we need is just a hand-to-hand kind of game," he said. "Where a team is not afraid of us. That they make plays and they continue to make them throughout."

Through the early part of the schedule, Kentucky needs about 16 or 17 seconds to get a good shot, he said. As the competition grows greater, the Cats will need more time to get a similar shot, at least theoretically. A shot clock winding down and a competitive opponent make for a testing situation.

Calipari has given thought to the five players he wants on the court at the end of a close game. He mentioned Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Devin Booker and "two 'bigs."

"We're trying to create a great shot every time down whenever that happens," Calipari said. "If it's a late-game, we probably use 25 to 30 seconds before we do anything unless it's a layup or a dunk.

"That's all the stuff that we need, and stuff I see will happen over time."

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