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Duke provided a solid learning lesson for Kentucky

UK coach John Calipari talks to Archie Goodwin during the loss to Duke. (Victoria Graff photo)

UK coach John Calipari talks to Archie Goodwin during the loss to Duke. (Victoria Graff photo)


ATLANTA — If John Calipari wanted a learning lesson for his young Kentucky basketball team, he got it. Duke, a senior dominated team, made all the little plays it needed at opportune times to beat No. 3 Kentucky 75-68 here Tuesday night in the State Farm Champions Classic.

“Down the stretch, we had our chances,” said Calipari. “Missed a shot, had the ball in the post and did not catch it. We are still learning.”

And that’s the good news for Kentucky because it played without its starting point guard, Ryan Harrow (he did not make the trip because of illness), and trailed 54-42 midway of the second half when it looked like No. 8 Duke might run away.

However, Kentucky stormed back to cut the lead to 64-61 and had a chance to tie the game when Julius Mays missed a 3-pointer. That was all Duke needed to regroup and put the game away the final two minutes.

“We don’t play hard enough yet. We do not compete for every possession. Do not go after every rebound. We do not how to finish games yet,” Calipari said. “I have not totally figured out on how we should play yet.”

But what he is figuring out is that his three highly-touted freshmen — Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein — can all play and are only going to get better.

Poythress played like the “beast” at times that Calipari has been pushing him to be. He had 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting, but more importantly he got five offensive rebounds that he converted into points. Twice he soared above the rim to dunk follow shots, something Calipari and his staff had been working on in practice.

“He is a beast. That is what he needed to look like,” Calipari said. “He is not a two guard. He’s a beast. Be a beast. I don’t want  to see cute stuff. Get by somebody and dunk. Shoot a couple of 3’s when you can.”

Goodwin had to play the point much of the game with Harrow not even in Atlanta because he was left in Lexington to try and regain strength he’s lost in the last week. Still, despite some questionable shots a few times, Goodwin had 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and one blocked shot to more than offset four turnovers. He showed everyone he could get by veteran guards and still score.”

Noel had 16 points, eight rebounds, four steals, three blocks and two assists. He was 5-for-11 from the field, but he also got on the floor numerous times after loose ball. He was pushed around at times, but he never quit competing.

All three impressed Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“I think Goodwin is going to be a star. He is an elite athlete and can break you down. He and Noel with the ball screen is dangerous,” Krzyzewski said. “Poythress played a great game for them today. They are just going to keep getting better.”

Actually, Calipari thought Kentucky got better than it showed against Maryland last week in Brooklyn when it won. This time he credited Duke for much of what didn’t go right for UK even though the Cats had just 13 turnovers, were outrebounded only 31-30 and shot 49 percent from the field to Duke’s 45.6 percent.

“We were better than we were against Maryland. This was just a team that was senior … we had our chances. When it got to three, I thought we were going to win this,” Calipari said.

“What they don’t understand is how hard you have to play every possession and how you have to sustain it and how a bad minute and a half cost you a game. They don’t know yet. We have to get stronger and mentally tougher,” the Kentucky coach said. “We are a November team right now and have to get better. If we look like this in December and January, we wil not be the team everybody thinks we can be. We have got to figure out how to play and then get after it.”

It will help if Kyle Wiltjer (2-for-5) and Julius Mays (2-for-8), the team’s best outside shooters, can make more shots. It will help if the Cats can be a bit more physical and it will help immensely if the freshmen learn not to take every shot fake and get into the air way too much defensively. But more than anything, it will help to get Harrow back and just let this team develop the continuity of playing together.

However, this loss should not discourage Kentucky. Let Krzyzewski explain why.

“There won’t be another setting like this (Michigan State beat Kansas in the first game in the Georgia Dome in front of 22,847 fans) until March,” the Duke coach said. “What a setting. That is one of the great things about this concept and why we wanted to be part of it. You know they are going to make a run. They have won over 100 games in the last three years and they are national champions, so they are going to make a run. I just thought our guys handled it well.

“It says something about the kids on both teams that they can play this well. This was not a mistake-ridden game. It was good. People had to fight. It was very physical. You had to work for everything. It was not a game of mistakes. This was a very good basketball game tonight.”

It was and was one that will be a learning lesson that should help make UK better in the months ahead.

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  2. Coy

    How many screens were executed to provide shots for Kyle?

    1. Jim

      Kyle needs to be more aggressive and create his shot. I think he is hustling more, than in the pre season games, where he appeared to loaf, especially on the boards.

      The freshmen need some support. Mays is another guy that is not carrying his weight on the offensive side, especially since he gets beat on D too many times.

  3. Jim Boyers

    I am getting so sick of the phantom “charge” calls that go against UK. It has reached a level which begs the question of whether the NCAA has specifically targeted them. I don’t like to cry about things, but it is glaringly obvious that something is going on and it ain’t right.

    Finishing with only 13 turnovers is the most impressive stat of the game, considering that they had 8 or 9 in the first 10 minutes or so, if I recall correctly. Having so few, with the incredible pace of the final quarter of the game, is an incredibly good sign.

    I hate my team losing, but it is just a matter of time before they won’t be losing any more. This team is showing that it will be unstoppable, as soon as they all get on the same page as Cal. The clock is ticking for the rest of the Division 1 teams.

    Now, let’s get our boys home and start the transformation.

  4. TheProfessor

    Rebounding improved from game 1 but it is still not what it should be, or needs to be, and the defense has been atrocious through 2 games.

    Offense is lagging as well, but it is not the same level of concern for me at this point as defense and rebounding.

  5. Jim

    I loved hearing Cal call out Duke for flopping. But, the refs gave them quite a few of them, including one against Poythress, out at the top of the key late in the game.

    The Cats didn’t give up, when they were down. Cal is doing a great job with this young squad. Poythress was a beast and was strong around the rim. This will be a fun team to watch, as they improve throughout the season.

  6. grant

    ahh well , this is but 1 loss , duke beat them in nov. but coach k and his band of merry devils will want zero to do with uk come march.

  7. Jan In Indiana

    I’m definitely would have preferred a win but I’m not upset about the loss, this team is learning everyday and have the best teacher for the job. To quote Dickie V. “if you are going to beat this Kentucky team you better do it now.” To be truthful I would much rather beat Duke in March or April when it knocks them out of the tournament. LOL

  8. Karen Sprinkle

    While I am disappointed that the Cats couldn’t pull out the victory, I am heartened by several things. Coach Cal’s tweet that Alex had gotten it seems to be appropriate as he played more aggressive and smarter. Noel played terrific, and I was pleasantly surprised with his improved free throw shooting. Of the 13 turnovers, at least 5 or 6 were phantom charge calls against the Cats. It would have been easy for the Cats to give up when they were down 14, but they ramped up the defense a bit more to get some easy baskets to pull within 3. Had Mays three gone in, Katy bar the door. All in all, a great learning experience for the young Cats.

  9. Mark S.

    My take away for this game is Kentucky potential to get much better is higher than what Duke will be at the end of the season. I like this team.

  10. Larry T Clemons

    Duke hit three’s, we didn’t…Kentucky, should have forced Plumlee’s 5th foul sooner…But, The ” AWESOMENESS “, that I saw from Our Young Cats, was very exciting. We’ll see Duke and hopefully Indiana in March…Just beat Louisville Coach, please.

    1. TonyJ

      I think UK tried to force another foul on Plumlee several times. I think he had at least 8 to 9 fouls. Its just that they weren’t called.

      However, I’m usually not excited about a loss but our kittens started to grow up last night! Can’t wait to see what they look like next week, next month, at the end of the season. Just sit back and enjoy the journey!

      1. larryvaught

        Great points Tony. Like you, I came away impressed even in a loss

  11. Steve

    Even with this lost this Ky team grew.We now know that they can play with an more seasoned team.We had our low spots but our team fought back.By the the time we get to the SEC play all of BBN will be proud and happy with our play.Coach Cal got his team going in the right direction

  12. RJ

    KY played like a team still getting used to playing with each other. They will not be as easy to play against in March. Still doing dumb freshmen stuff though. What do you expect………..they are freshmen.

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