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November 1, 2012

Calipari tinkers with lineups as Cats cruise in exhibition

MIX MASTER
John Calipari played 16 different lineups on Thursday, including 13 using combinations of his top seven players. You can see every combination - and the minutes each played together - on The Blueprint, our UK sports blog.
Technically, John Calipari still isn't out of options.

The Kentucky basketball coach rolled out 13 different five-man combinations from among his top seven players in the Wildcats' 93-61 exhibition win against Northwood Thursday night at Rupp Arena.

The math says there are eight he hasn't tried.

He might yet get to those, because Calipari's still tinkering. Though his Cats romped against the nation's top-ranked NAIA team, Calipari wasn't sold on any combination, including a starting five - Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, Kyle Wiltjer and Alex Poythress - that each scored in double digits but struggled to get out of the gate.

"Well, you may look at one lineup and say, 'This one is better,'" Calipari said. "I may not like that starting lineup. You can't start that way, so maybe we start different, and then you just rotate."

The rotating seems like a given.

Calipari tweaked his lineup combination eight times before halftime. He used 13 different combinations of his top seven players and 16 total combinations of players if you count the final minutes of a blowout.

That's enough rotating to make heads spin, but Calipari's players are getting used to it.

"We've went through it through practice, so we've experienced that, with the two bigs or with Kyle, Willie (Cauley-Stein) and Nerlens at the same time, so we were kind of prepared for it," said Harrow, who had 15 points and five assists. "And he let us know that he would be trying to shuffle us around during the game."

He succeeded in that. But while Calipari tried a lot of lineups, he didn't fall in love with any. He suggested that he might move Cauley-Stein and Mays into the starting lineup in Monday's exhibition finale.

Kentucky might have "a catch up lineup that we've got to go and be more active and do stuff," Calipari said.

That worked on Thursday, when the "catch-up" lineup of Noel, Poythress, Mays, Goodwin and Harrow zoomed past Northwood, sparking a 9-0 run that put UK in front 23-13.

The Cats cruised from there as Calipari continued to fiddle with his five. He played big men Noel, Cauley-Stein and Wiltjer together with a variety of duos alongside.

"You just have to be ready for the lineups he's going to put out," said Noel, who finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. "Whether it's me and Alex, me and Kyle, or me, Willie and Kyle. You just have to be aware and know what spot you're at. But it's very diverse."

That can present some confusion. Cauley-Stein said he'd been playing exclusively at the center position in practice until this week, when he had to shift to power forward to accommodate Noel when they share the court.

"Playing that game (when) I've only been practicing the position for a week, I feel like I don't know what I'm doing right away," said Cauley-Stein, who had eight points, nine rebounds, two blocks and three steals.

No matter what combination Calipari concocted, the Cats had their moments. They played some stifling defense in stretches and held Northwood to 36.2 percent shooting in the game, including 8-for-29 shooting from three-point range. Kentucky shot 61.4 percent, including 67.9 percent in the second half.

And the Cats displayed high-flying athleticism all over the court, blocking 11 shots - eight in the second half - and outrebounding Northwood 42-30.

"I thought we did a very good job until they started jumping over us," Northwood coach Rollie Massimino said.

Still, the Cats are a work in progress, and it showed at times. They committed 17 turnovers, nine combined by Goodwin and Poythress, and gave up 17 offensive rebounds.

Calipari said the Cats "weren't what we needed to be," but were "better than I thought we'd be."

Now, he'll go back to the lab and examine the lineup mixtures he threw together Thursday in the hopes of honing some rotations - and getting more consistent effort - on Monday against Transylvania.

Those lineup tweaks might start at the beginning, with a new starting five a possibility.

"And I'm telling you, it does not matter who starts, it's who finishes the game," Calipari said. "If a kid's ego about starting is the biggest thing, maybe he shouldn't have come to school here. When you're playing seven guys, what does that mean?" Calipari said. "You're going to play all the minutes you can play."



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