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UK Freshman Nerlens Noel

By Keith Taylor, The Winchester Sun

Nerlens Noel wasn’t happy with his performance in the first half of Kentucky’s 93-61 victory over Northwood Thursday night at Rupp Arena. “I didn’t like how I was playing and felt like I needed to pick it up (in the second half),” he said.

The freshman forward did just that. Noel scored just four points in the opening half, but was active and collected seven rebounds, including five on the defensive end. In the final half, Noel picked up the pace, scoring 13 points, while blocking four shots. Noel felt a sense of urgency following his two-basket effort during the first 20 minutes.

Noel admitted that he was nervous and added that atmosphere “was crazy” during the first of two exhibition games before the Nov. 9 season opener against Maryland. However, he settled down in the second half and performed to his ability.

“After the first half, I snapped out of it,” he said. “I started to feel like the way I should feel. It started to feel natural. I was not really surprised that I was nervous. When you play here in front of all these fantastic fans you are going to be a little nervous. It is over now and I am ready to ball. It is game time, and I am a lot more focused. It is about the team, and about winning. The coaching staff has really helped us with our game and we are getting better every day.”

Noel is getting used to the daily collegiate grind and is progressing behind the scenes, especially in practice, going up against teammate Willie Cauley-Stein.

“He (Noel) and Willie have made each other better,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said . “They’re both better because they go against each other every day.  I like the fact that I put them in together a couple days ago and they really talked to one another, like up and down the court they were telling each other I’m here, you go up, you do this and it was good to see.”

The freshman forward likes playing along with Cauley-Stein in the post, allowing both players to utilize their height underneath. It’s one of several different combinations that Calipari is tinkering with during preseason workouts.

“It’s fantastic,” Noel said. “I love playing with Willie. We’re both big men that can really move and we can even guard (other teams’) forwards and a couple guards really. That’s what we do well — we’re able to switch (and rotate) pretty much on screens.”

Cauley-Stein was surprised to be in the same rotation with Noel, but liked the concept and hopes Calipari will consider the option more in the future.

“I didn’t know we were going to do it,” he said. “We talked about it, but we didn’t do it in practice or anything. It was definitely weird, but I liked that lineup a lot.”

Noel credits his ongoing improvement Cauley-Stein and likes the competition in practice.

“It helps us (get better) and we always go at each other,” Noel said. “We’re working to make each other better. I’m going after his weakness and he’s going after mine. We’re working on our weaknesses and building on our strengths.”

Although he’s still learning the system and getting used the collegiate scene, Noel is having fun and can’t wait to get the season officially under way a week from today.

“It’s early and we have a ways to go, but I think we played well tonight,” he said. “Every single guy on this team — I love them to death. Going out there playing with them — you just can’t ask for more.”

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