March 4, 2012

Cats practice without Davis to prepare for tournament

UK knows the madness of March can't be simulated, so UK head coach John Calipari is telling his team to expect the unexpected.

One scenario that UK is practicing is playing without freshman Anthony Davis.

On Thursday night Davis played a season low 22 minutes. He volunteered to sit, giving senior Eloy Vargas more playing time. But UK is practicing as if Davis were to sit due to foul trouble.

"We do at least 20 minutes every practice, just go up and down against him with Terrence Jones as our center," freshman Marquis Teague said.

Davis hasn't had a game with more than three personal fouls since picking up four and only playing 24 minutes in the team's only loss at Indiana on Dec.10.

Teague feels UK is still competitive without Davis in the lineup, but can notice a difference.

"We still do a real good job without him but it's not the same," Teague said. "He makes us that much better when he's on the floor."

When the Cats practice without Davis, Calipari will fiddle with the lineup but it usually involves Jones playing center. A position he isn't familiar playing.

"Coach told us that he wanted us to be ready for any situation, he's just been thinking and getting us prepared," Jones said. "I'm still learning the position, but its fun learning it and getting prepare."

Calipari shuffles the lineup with Davis out. He plays Vargas, Kyle Wiltjer and Terrence Jones at times. Other times he replaces Vargas with Darius Miller.

Jones said when he plays the center position he tries to emulate what Davis does on the defensive end, by blocking shots and helping in the lane.

"It makes me more of an impact defensive player," Jones said. "Coach wants me to be there for the majority of the blocks he's usually there for."

There have only been three games where Davis has had four or more fouls and has only fouled out once, in UK's 62-52 win against Old Dominion on Nov.20.

Putting Davis on the second team not only gives UK preparation for a foul trouble scenario, but also allows the starters to practice and go up against the nation's leading shot blocker.

"It's hard to get shots up over him," Teague said. "He changes a lot of shots and block a lot."

Taking the show on the (neutral) road

UK's season finale showdown at Florida will be the Cats true road game of the season. After Sunday all games will be neutral site games.

And despite locking up the No.1 seed in the Southeastern Conference tournament and being projected as a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament, Calipari considers the Cats rematch with Florida as a pride game.

"It's a pride game, let's figure out what we are," Calipari said. "I let them know that it would be a physical game and that they would in all likelihood come out and be physical."

UK has a much-improved 7-1 record in road games this season, compared to a 4-7 mark last year.

"We've gotten better now let's see what we do with out last true road game," Calipari said. "The rest of the games this season will be at neutral sites and we will have our share of fans."

It was this time last season when UK started its run that eventually led to the Final Four. The Cats had reeled off 10 straight before falling to Connecticut.

Jones remembers the path last year but felt there was more pressure. This season the team has more scorers.

"I think there is less pressure on every player, every player we have (this year) can step up and bring something to the table," Jones said. "Not everything is depending on one player because we have so many players on this team that do something for us."

Yeguete's injury

Little has changed with Florida since the Wildcats rocked the Gators 78-58 on Feb. 7 at Rupp Arena, but the loss of Will Yeguete will certainly be noticed.

The 6-foot-7 forward is out for the season with a broken bone in his left foot. He was a key reserve for Florida, averaging 4.4 points per game and 6.3 rebounds in just under 22 minutes.

"It hurts them because they've got to go small, which in another sense may help them because now they could have five three-point shooters on the team if (Erik) Murphy's at the five," Calipari said. "Now I want you to think about that: All five guys can shoot threes. So in one way it hurts them, but the other way it may help them. But he is that guy off the bench that is physical that could do some things. It's just unfortunate for the kid."

Yeguete, the first man off the bench for Florida, had four points and seven rebounds in the first meeting against Kentucky.

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