Most Recent Posts
- Playing No. 1 Florida “just going to be another game” for James Young
- John Calipari: UK needs Alex Poythress to “do two or three things on offense” and no more
- Kentucky gets the Gator off its back, beats Florida 75-70 in SEC semis
- Willie Cauley-Stein says Cats “obviously 100 percent” believe they can beat No. 1 Florida
- John Calipari has assigned assistants to monitor players’ minutes in games
- Kentucky Wildcats TV: How you approach the end
- John Calipari says Kentucky must “make some jump shots” to play with Florida
- John Calipari: “To have people say this team is done, I just don’t believe it”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said UK’s length not only led to a 44-24 advantage in points in the paint for UK, but also contributed to his two best players — Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers — going a combined 10-for-31 from the field in UK’s 80-64 win.
“Their length was problematic. They were switching ball screens. We are never very proficient at the rim, but in the first half our big guys were at least cleaning up and that’s what kept us in the game,” Kennedy said.
“But their length bothered us. We couldn’t stop them. They only missed 10 field goals in the second half and part of that was at the end. An Ole Miss Rebel did not grab a defensive rebound until two minutes were left in the half. I have never seen that.”
That’s because UK’s inside players finally went to work dominating the boards led by Willie Cauley-Stein, who had 18 points (7-for-8), 11 rebounds, six blocked shots, two assists and one steal. That’s better production than he’s almost had in the past five games combined.
“He was outstanding tonight,” Kennedy said. “He has shown himself to be a complete player and his length was very bothersome. He finished everything at the basket. Even when we got a stop, he was there to clean up and finish through contact.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
With Kentucky now 15-5 — remember all the preseason speculation about the team maybe going 40-0 with perhaps the all-time best recruiting class — is it time to admit the Wildcats were overrated going into the season? Or is it time to acknowledge that the team has just underachieved going into Saturday’s game at Missouri?
Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy, who knows UK coach John Calipari well, thinks it might be a combination of both factors that have led to unexpected defeats and sometimes uninspired play.
“I did think Kentucky would be a lot better, and John (Calipari) did, too,” DeCourcy said. “Defensively, they are not playing with great energy or passion. Offensively, they don’t have a lot of cohesion. They do not always play with each other. There has been a little progress from when I saw them against Louisville.
“James Young has gotten better, but I would just like one time to see him pass up an okay shot to see if a great shot was available. I have never seen him pass up an open shot ever. If he has a shot, he shoots it. If he was Pistol Pete Maravich and there were not a lot of guys to throw the ball to, that’s one thing. But he’s often playing with four future NBA players.”
He’s not picking on Young, either, because he acknowledges that guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, both projected as the top players at their positions in the 2013 recruiting class, have struggled. Andrew, the point guard, was ranked as the third best overall player in the 2013 class. But in the last five games, he has 19 assists, including just one in Tuesday’s loss at LSU, and 13 turnovers while shooting just over 30 percent from the field.
“Andrew is 6-5 but he is not a commanding point guard presence like you would think the second or third best overall player in a recruiting class would be,” DeCourcy said. “This year Emmanuel Mudiay (who picked SMU over Kentucky) is a phenomenal athlete but I am not sure about him being the next great point guard.
“Andrew and Aaron are both fine players, just maybe not the players they were promoted to be. They were ranked in the same neighborhood as (Andrew Wiggins), (Julius) Randle and (Jabari) Parker and you’ve got to be extraordinary to be in there with those guys. But they are still future NBA players. Don’t get me wrong. They are still excellent players.
Randle, once considered a potential No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft, has had his stock, too. He’s scored 20 or more points in just one of the last five games — with 16 turnovers — and had just six points and five rebounds at LSU while being outplayed by freshman Jordan Mickey.
“Julius’ problem is somewhat that he doesn’t get access to the ball as regularly as he would like or should be,” DeCourcy said. “Then when he gets the ball, he tries to do more than he should. When LSU played that zone, he tried to go through it instead of around it. If you try to take on a zone and go through it, you are going to lose every time. Even a bad zone beats you if you try to go through it. If you go around it, you have a chance.
“Julius tried to go straight through the heart of the zone and struggled as a result. That’s been his problem. When teams play man and rotate help on him, he can fight through that. He has momentum to beat his man and the other guy is coming late, so he’s just beating on man and making plays before the other arrives. In the zone, he’s trying to do the same thing facing two or three guys who are where they want to be and that doesn’t work.”
Perhaps the most puzzling player, though, has been Willie Cauley-Stein. Once on pace to challenge the blocked shots exploits of Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, Cauley-Stein has become a non-factor in recent games. He was manhandled by LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant much like he was by Tennessee’s inside player. He has blocked one shot or none in four of the last five game and played less than 20 minutes in all four games — and without him UK has not had a rim protector.
“I don’t know why he is not competing. I don’t understand why he has become less competitive,” DeCourcy said. “When you see something like that, there is usually a reason behind it. Maybe he has a pain he’s hiding and playing through. It could be something personal. It just doesn’t make sense and is not typical for someone who has been competitive like he has.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne didn’t mince words about what was wrong with UK’s play in Tuesday’s 87-82 loss at LSU — a game where the No. 11 Cats fell behind 22-6 to start the game.
“It was very disappointing for our players, our coaching staff,” said Payne on the UK Radio Network postgame show. “We gave them a game plan and the didn’t execute. More important, they didn’t fight. It’s all about fighting, not strategy, not X’s and O’s. It’s about fighting and we didn’t fight and that’s disappointing.”
LSU certainly came out fighting.
“We needed this game really bad. We went out and executed our game plan for the whole 40 minutes,” LSU freshman Jordan Mickey said. “It was all a team effort. We tried to limit them to one shot. We did a great job rebounding and getting the tough 50/50 balls. We hustled a lot and it was just a great team effort.”
“We wanted to come out aggressive. I think when I scored those first couple of baskets, the team really rallied around me. They just fed off my energy to begin with,” LSU center Johnny O’Bryant said. “I really tried to attack them. I knew that they were young guys and I had an advantage in experience and body wise. I was going at them all night.”
Payne agreed and that both frustrated and irritated him. He noted that not only did O’Bryant dominate inside, but the Tigers also made seven 3-pointers.
“They took the fight to us and we didn’t respond and that’s not quite good enough,” Payne said. “In the post, the game plan was to trap Johnny O’Bryant.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said it was his fault for not trapping O’Bryant from the start, but Payne offered a different explanation.
“Initially, we did not get that done for whatever reasons. Mentally, we just were not ready,” Payne said. “He wanted to play well against Kentucky and he dominated us. That’s the mental part of the game to execute. We worked on that but we are not getting that for whatever reason. You can blame it on youth, but at the end of the day you have a job to do and you have got to do it.
“We had been practicing well. We had been playing well. It would have been nice to come out and fight and play the game we know we can play and see where the chips would fall. But to go out and play like this … and no disrespect to them. They took the fight to us and outplayed us.”
Payne credited Dakari Johnson for the way “he battled and did everything we asked him to do.” He said the freshman did a “hell of a job” against LSU.
He had different thoughts about Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein, who was shown on TV exchanging heated words with Payne on the bench.
“We fight for low post position. Play strong. You can’t run from people,” Payne said. “You have to be the aggressor and get the ball in the basket. It just comes down to fighting.”
Kentucky will get another chance to show it can “fight” at Missouri Saturday. The Tigers are coming off a win at Arkansas — a team that beat UK in overtime. Chances are Missouri will view the game as a resume-builder just like LSU did.
“Kentucky, with the history and tradition that they have in our league, being ranked in the top-15 or top-20 teams in the country, is a big win for us,” Jones said. “That was a huge win for us. We know we have a lot of season left in front of us, but we certainly think that’s a really good win for us.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Want to know what was the best part of Kentucky’s 79-54 win over Georgia here Saturday?
Points leader — Aaron Harrison, 15. Rebound leader — Julius Randle, 9. Assists leader — Andrew Harrison, 5. Blocks leader — Willie Cauley-Stein, 6.
It was simply a game where players did what they were supposed to do — 11 players scored and six scored at least 7 points. Andrew Harrison may have had his best overall game as several times he made eye contact with teammates on fast breaks that led to lob passes for dunks. He also didn’t always force his way to the basket and hit pull-up jump shots. Aaron Harrison was 6-for-10 from the field and also had three assists, one block and one steal.
Randle had the defense collapse on him — what’s new in Southeastern Conference play — but passed the ball better and was content to hit the boards rather than force bad shots. But he still battled and scored 14 points while letting the game come to him.
Cauley-Stein? He was his old self and not that Cauley-Stein of the recent three-game slump. Maybe it was the headband he put back on. Whatever it was, he was playing with energy and doing a little bit of everything. Not only did he block six shots (he had two in the last three games), but he also had three rebounds, eight points and career-high six steals.
Need more? Alex Poythress came off the bench to score 11 points and was strong inside again. James Young hit outside shots and scored 13 points.
“I think that is strength of their team that a lot of guys finish plays,” Georgia coach Mark Fox, who had to play without his best two shooting guards due to injury and was limited offensively because of that. “You can not just slow down one guy. Their balance makes them very difficult to defend.”
He also wanted no part of hearing about Cauley-Stein’s three-game slump.
“He grew up 50 miles from where I did (in Kansas). I don’t think he’s slumping,”Fox said. “They have a lot of guys making plays. He is a terrific player. I don’t think he’s slumping. It just comes with the territory.”
That territory as UK includes being judged on postseason success. This team came into the season ranked No. 1, but lost close games to Michigan State, Baylor, North Carolina and Arkansas. Calipari has cited the team’s youth and need to learn how to play as a team and not as individuals. But maybe, must maybe, the Cats are starting to get that message.
“I like this team. Will we be disciplined enough to be special?” Calipari said after the win. “It’s not about enough bodies or talent. Will we become the team we can be and have the discipline it takes to do something really unique and special? We will see.”
But wasn’t today a step in that direction or not?
“It is about players first. You’ve got to get them right. You’ve got to get them in the frame of mind, and then you get your team right,” Calipari said. “Now for us that means … if you in any way are not playing for your team, you’re watching me sub guys out now. You’re out. Somebody else is playing. And I’m trying to hold them more accountable.”
The players know — and seem to be accepting that.
“Two months ago we were all playing for ourselves and thinking about ourselves and not each other,” Young, who was 5-for-10 from the field, said. “Now we know if one does good, we all do good. A lot of guys are starting to do individual work on their own. That is getting everybody ready and better.
“It’s a process, something we understand now. You have to take it day by day to get better. Every day our communication is getting better.”
That certainly goes for Andrew Harrison, who had seven points, five assists, one steal, one block, three rebounds and three turnovers in 29 minutes. The only thing he did that upset Calipari was that he missed “like three runners” and put his head down.
“I took him out. It’s a great shot, you missed it. But you’re going to have an attitude, head down on that? It was a great shot. That’s the thing, he and his brother (Aaron) are getting by, so now you don’t see it as much any more. They understand. Just play for your team, take the shots you’re supposed to take,” Calipari said.
Aaron Harrison says the team’s improved play goes back to the way his brother, Andrew, is playing at point guard.
“Andrew is the reason why we are looking better,” Aaron Harrison said. “He’s running the team, passing the ball, playing D (defense). He is doing a good job.
“We also were more focused as a team. Everybody wanted to make a statement with our play today.”
Now UK has to make that statement with road games at LSU and Missouri. Win those two and UK could be back close to the top 10 in the national rankings and stay within range of Florida in the SEC race. More importantly, it would continue the upward curve the Cats seem to be on.
“This was a good game for us,” Calipari said. “We’re learning. They’re trying.”
Young said Calipari is right now about it coming down to mental discipline.
“Like when we come out of a timeout and he tells us to run one play and we do not, or did not,” Young said. “That’s what he’s talking about. We have to execute each play and not just do things on our own. That’s what we are learning and did better in this game, but there’s still a lot to learn.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
What is wrong with Willie Cauley-Stein?
That’s the question most Kentucky basketball fans, and maybe even coach John Calipari, want answered after the 7-foot sophomore center had his third straight lacklustre performance Tuesday in a win over Texas A&M.
Cauley-Stein played a season-low nine minutes — only twice in his freshman season did he play fewer minutes in a game. He missed his only two shots, made only one of four free throws, grabbed a season-low one rebound and for only the second time this season did not block a shot.
That came after he had just three rebounds, one block and no points against Tennessee the game before and just two points, six rebounds and one block before that in the overtime loss at Arkansas.
Cauley-Stein has three points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in the last three games. Compare that to the 15 points, six rebounds and one block he had against Vanderbilt before the streak started.
Cauley-Stein was almost listless and was a non-factor on both ends against Texas A&M. Freshman center Dakari Johnson filled in well — just as he did against Tennessee — and even started the second half. But he’s not the rim protector Cauley-Stein is even though he did have three blocked shots because he’s not as athletic as Cauley-Stein.
“I’ve just been trying to come off the bench and give a little spark to the team, bring energy. So that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Johnson after Tuesday’s game. “I’m not sure what’s wrong with Willie. I know he’ll bounce back. He’ll have some great practices. We really need him to step up if we want to do anything special, but he’ll be fine. He has been playing well in practice, he really has. So I am positive he will bounce back. Everybody is (positive).”
Freshman Julius Randle isn’t worried about Cauley-Stein’s slump and knows how much the Wildcats need Cauley-Stein’s overall presence.
“I can’t really speak for Willie. All I can really say is this season we’ve all seen what he can do,” said Randle. “As far as the defensive end, he changes the game completely. And offensively if he’s aggressive he really changes the game. We’re not going to be where we want to be unless Willie’s playing well and we all know that.
“I can’t say it’s a lack of him no practicing hard or putting in extra effort or extra work at night with coaches. I’ve seen him do it before practice, after practice, stuff like that. So I think it’ll come around him.”
So what does Calipari think is going on?
“I don’t know what’s wrong with Willie, but he’ll be fine,” Calipari said after the win. “I just … look, when you’re a coach and you coach the game to win. Then you work on egos and all the other stuff after. Dakari was playing better than him, so I started Dakari (in the second half). Dakari continued to play better than him. At the end of the game, I said (to Cauley-Stein), “Look, we’re going at you. You got to get going here, kid.’ He turned and fumbled. I mean, it didn’t get any better.
“You know, he wants to do well. He was doing really well, and he backed up a little bit. It’s like a slippery slope. When you back up, you don’t keep bringing it. All of a sudden you go that other way. This sport is mental as much as anything else.”
It is. Kentucky fans wonder if Cauley-Stein should go back to wearing his head band. Or maybe dye his hair blonde again — and leave it that way.
Whatever the reason, it’s the worst slump he’s had since Nerlens Noel was injured midway of Southeastern Conference play and Cauley-Stein became a starter. He scored in double figures in four of UK’s final eight games to end last season and had six or more rebounds in every game but one. He has seven double-figure scoring games this season and five games with 10 or more rebounds. He once ranked among the nation’s elite shot blockers even though he has just 10 in the last eight games now.
As the games have become more physical, he’s regressed except for his overall play against Louisville. Four times in the last six games he’s either failed to make a field goal or had just one. He’s 2-for-12 from the field in thos four games.
“He is doing fine. Willie is Willie. He has the same attitude. He says he will be fine. He’s just in a little slump. Everybody gets in a little slump, so he will bounce back,” Johnson said in defense of his teammate that he battles daily in practice.
Any chance Johnson has beat on Cauley-Stein too much in practice and wore him down physically since he seems to have lost his energy in games?
“He has been practicing really well. He knows he has not been playing well, so he is trying to practice hard and going hard and I am pretty sure he will be fine,” Johnson said.
But will he? Three games can be a slump that he could break out of Saturday against Georgia. If not, Johnson could continue to play more and compensate for Cauley-Stein’s inefficiency.
However, for UK to be the factor in postseason play that it wants to be, the Cats need the old Cauley-Stein that blocked shots, ran the court and hit the boards to reappear and do so soon.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Does it take longer for a big player like Dakari Johnson to develop than smaller perimeter players? Here’s the long answer John Calipari gave Saturday:
“Big players develop later, but again, all these guys, they’ve got to eliminate the clutter. You’ve got to quit own your performance, come in, practice and work. And again, this is not a disrespectful thing, but you know how you get letters, and if there’s an addressed envelope, like I will never my secretary doesn’t give me any unaddressed letters. They’re torn up, so I don’t even see them,” Calipari said.
“But someone sends me something about play more guys. If you play more guys, … which is different teams. It’s harder when you’ve got a young team to play more guys because you’re trying to get your team right. But the second point I said, this is with all due respect, in 2010 when I called Coach (John) Wooden about my team, he told me I play too many guys. You need to play six or seven, maybe eight max if somebody is in foul trouble. All kind of ways of doing this.
“He was behind Willie; how well was Willie playing? Not a whole lot of minutes there. Now Willie is not playing as well, now you go do your minutes and prove you should play more. Own your performance. And he did. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of Alex.
You know, all these guys, I didn’t put Jon Hood in today. Jon has had the greatest attitude and the greatest approach and has grown so much in the time he’s been here, I just see him, like what do you want to do, do you want to get into coaching? What do you really want to do? But you just see the growth. Sometimes you see it fast; Alex it’s taken time. So what? What if it takes two years, three years? So? It does take time.
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Did Julius Randle ever think a team could outrebound Kentucky 39-24 or that no Kentucky player would have more than four rebounds in a game?
“No, that’s crazy,” said Randle, UK’s freshman whiz.
Yet that’s just what happened here Saturday when UK found unexpected ways to still beat Tennessee 74-66 after another sluggish start put the Cats in a first-half hole.
So how did Kentucky win?
— Point guard Andrew Harrison had his best game. He scored a career-high 26 points (his first 20-point game at UK). He was 7-for-13 from the field and 10-for-10 at the foul line. He had three assists, but more importantly he did not have a turnover. Kentucky coach John Calipari turned the offense over to him the second half and he not only responded with 16 points, but he took charge on the court.
His play drew praise from Calipari, but also got the attention of former Wildcat star Rex Chapman who posted this on Twitter: “VERY happy for Andrew Harrison. Shows character & toughness to hang-in & put himself in a position to succeed like he did.”
— After losing four games where poor free throw shooting was costly, UK went 23-for-24 at the line and the one miss didn’t come until the final minute of play. Randle was 5-for-5, Alex Poythress 2-for-2 and Aaron Harrison 6-for-7. If UK had shot it’s season average (65 percent) at the line, that would have been seven fewer points.
“We’ve all been working on our free throws and it showed,” Randle said.
Andrew Harrison said it came from practice and just getting in the gym.
Calipari? He joked that it came from workouts in the swimming pool on low goals to build confidence. Then he didn’t say why he thought the shooting improved.
— Kentucky was 7-for-16 from 3-point range, including Randle’s first trey, and the 43.8 percent was UK’s fourth best of the year. The seen makes were just one off UK’s season high as well. The Cats were 5-for-12 in the first half to stay in the game and then only took four in the second half when Tennessee did not give up as many open looks.
“It’s not an insult for teams to give us the 3. If you don’t shoot well, that’s what they do,” Andrew Harrison said. “We’ve got great drivers, so it is a smart thing to see if we can make shots.”
Calipari said UK is not a team that should be taking 25 3-pointers per game.
“We are a driving team. We’re a post-up team. We’re a rebounding team. I want us to be a vicious defensive team so we can get out and run because we are fast,” the UK coach said. “But if you jam us in, we will shoot 3’s. We’ve had games like this and we’ve had games where we were 1-for-12.”
— Kentucky had just eight turnovers, its third lowest total of the season. UK had seven against UNC Asheville and Belmont, eight against Texas-Arlington and nine against Baylor.
Randle had four turnovers, two each half. Calipari felt he held the ball too long the second half when the Vols collapsed their defense on him after he got 16 points in the first half.
“We played through him the first half and he created for his teammates,” Calipari said. “The second half he held it a little too long, tried to go one extra bounce and that’s the old stuff that creates turnovers. So we just went away (and to Harrison).”
Kentucky need the 3-pointers, free throws and low turnovers to beat a physical, experienced team that would not back down.
“I thought both teams competed, played hard on both ends of the floor,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Thought it was a physical game.
“I told our guys, especially the bigs, they did an exceptional job keeping those guys off the glass because you are talking about one of the better rebounding teams in college basketball the way they crash the offensive glass. That was our focus, to keep them out of the lane.
“When you’re a ball player, especially for our guys, they look forward to atmosphere and the stage, so it wasn’t a case of being hesitant, weren’t ready to play. Again, great atmosphere, most players want to play … you want to be the best, you consider yourself the best, you want to play on a stage like this.”
Calipari certainly seemed more than content to get away with an eight-point win even though the Vols are now just 11-6 overall and 2-2 in SEC play.
“That’s a good team. Tennessee is not going to lose many in our league,” Calipari said. “I’m just happy we don’t have to see them again until tournament time possibly, and I hope we don’t see them there. They’re a physical team.
“(Guard Jordan) McRae is as good as they get. Their guard play, they’ve got length. They come off the bench with (Derek) Reese, who’s a different kind of big guy. They run their stuff. Cuonzo has got them guarding. They’re really physical. They’ll bump and grind.”
They did all that, but on this day, that was not enough even with the way the Vols — Tennessee had 20 offensive rebounds — dominated the backboards.
“Sometimes you just have to find different ways to win, and that’s what we did today,” Randle said. “But if you had told me before the game the rebounding would have been like that, no way would I have believe it.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein was a non-factor in Tuesday’s loss at Arkansas when he had two points, six rebounds and one blocked shot before fouling out after he played just 18 minutes. However, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson knows how important Cauley-Stein is to UK.
“He plays the game unselfishly. I think he presents a problem. As you look at him each year, from last year to this year, he’s so much more established,” Anderson said. “He’s athletic, he can come out on the floor, he can run the floor like a deer. And he’s got a great feel for the game. He’s a good passer.
“So he presents a problem from you can throw it in there, he can make passes, he can come from the blindside to block shots or straight up. So he’s a very versatile, big guy for a 7-footer.”
Cauley-Stein leads UK with 57 blocked shots and 17 steals. He’s second in rebounding with 7.6 per game and fifth in scoring at 8.9 points per game. He is hitting 65.6 percent from the field (61 of 93) — but averages only about six shots per game.
James Young (38.8 percent) has taken a team-high 188 shots while Julius Randle (53.4) has 161, Aaron Harrison (46.3) 160 and Andrew Harrison (37.4) 115. Alex Poythress, a 52 percent shooter, has put up 75 shots.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky missed 14 of 40 free throws in Tuesday’s loss at Arkansas, a number that was right in line with what the Wildcats shot at the foul line this year. The 26 of 40 mark was 65 percent, and UK is hitting 65.9 percent (356 of 540) going into Saturday’s game with Tennessee.
Missed free throws have been a problem for the Wildcats in all four losses. Kentucky was 20-for-36 at the line against Michigan State, 12-for-23 against Baylor and 29-for-43 against North Carolina. That means in UK’s four losses — which have been by a combined 16 points — the Cats have missed 55 foul shots. However, they shot 61.3 percent from the foul line in those losses, which is not that far off their season average.
Kentucky also was only 16 of 30 at the line against Louisville, a 53 percent mark, but won that game.
Three UK starters — Aaron Harrison (76.6), Julius Randle (71.0) and Andrew Harrison (71.0) — are shooting over 71 percent at the line. However, Willie Cauley-Stein is at 45.7 percent, Alex Poythress 51.9, Dakari Johnson 48.4 and Dominique Hawkins 50.0
By LARRY VAUGHT
If Kentucky guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison play well, veteran ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale says Kentucky is a “tough team to beat” and as good as any team in the country.
He believes the improved “pyche” the Cats got from beating Louisville Dec. 28 helps and the recent break from games to practice let UK “get back to the gym and work with more positives” going into Southeastern Conference play.
“It starts with perimeter play. Your inside can only take you so far,” Vitale said.
He says the Harrisons need to reduce turnovers, get better shots for teammates and become the key to initiating defensive pressure on the ball.
“Michigan State’s guards are as good any guards in the country. That’s how you win,” Vitale said. “Great guard play the key for Kentucky. Their guard play has to be consistent and do it on a regular basis to be a really good team.”
Vitale says Kentucky’s recruiting class came in with a “lot of ability, lot of fan fare.” He admits many, including him, thought it could be the best recruiting class since 1979.
“But you still have got to play together as a unit, not individuals,” Vitale said. “Wisconsin is so good because they are so unified offensively and defensively. They know how to do the little things — spread the floor, get away from traps, how to use the diagonal pass.
“They are searching for that (at Kentucky). They (the Harrisons) are playing based on skill and ability. They have not been able to develop, but they have things you cannot teach. They can handle, shoot. They have got size, toughness and a little swag. They will be fine. It has just taken a little longer than people expected.”
Vitale says Andrew Harrison, the point guard, needs to improve defensively, understand what is a good shot and how to take advantage of other people on the floor. He noted how seldom UK got the ball inside to Julius Randle in its loss at North Carolina in December.
“They are not selfish. They are good kids. It’s just understanding,” Vitale said. “Point guard, and guard play, is essential on any level. If you are not strong on the perimeter, you are going to struggle against quality teams. They (Kentucky) will overpower a lot of teams that cannot match their size and athleticism.”
Vitale then rattled off a list of teams that included Michigan State, Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona and Syracuse where Kentucky, or any team, would have to “execute well, protect the basketball and get good shots” to win.
Sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are “veteran players with great size” that Vitale says could impact the way UK finishes the season, too.
“They are a factor. I think personally, Willie has got to be much more aggressive offensively. There’s no doubt his shot blocking is an incredible plus. If you are playing Kentucky, you better shoot over the top and make 3’s because inside he is going to reject big-time numbers,” Vitale said. “I think he has to be a little bit more of a force in the low post with his size and ability.
“Poythress was big against Louisville. He was aggressive, active and wanted to rebound. He gives them toughness and experience that they need.”