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December 18, 2012

Cats have time to bond, improve over holiday break

For the next three weeks Kentucky basketball players will be living an NBA lifestyle.

Sort of.

No, they won't be getting paid or hopping on jets every other night, and the Wildcats will play far fewer games than any NBA team over the coming weeks. But with finals over, the Cats will only focus on basketball over their holiday break.

And as the Cats continue to struggle finding their identity, this break from school couldn't have come at a better time.

"This is when ([db]John Calipari[/db]'s) teams usually get a lot better," guard [db]Jarrod Polson[/db] said. "We have nothing to worry about, absolutely nothing, just basketball for the next two weeks.

"We have nothing else on our minds, so hopefully we can get better."

With minds cleared, UK will have plenty of time to practice and just hone in on basketball. And with only two games left until the New Year, most of UK's focus will be in practice.

Since the Portland game on Dec. 8, the Cats have had only one game per week, similar to a football schedule. Long breaks between games allow UK plenty of time to practice, with little of that time spent preparing for other teams.

"It's great, we can get better as a team and really use this time as a group," forward [db]Kyle Wiltjer[/db] said. "But also individually work on our games and get better."

Since Calipari came to UK in 2009, the Cats have only lost one game over semester break, combining to go 19-1.

Sophomore [db]Ryan Harrow[/db] said it was over the break last year that the team came together, helping propel the Cats to a national championship run.

"It's nothing but basketball, basketball, basketball for us now," Harrow said. "The guys this year just have to be focused and ready for that."

And Harrow said that might be easier said than done. One might think that only having to worry about hoops would be easy for college basketball players, especially with a long break from school.

Not the case, Harrow said. Practices become more intense and if the Cats aren't ready to get better, than they will be left in the dust.

"I don't even think the guys realize how tough it's going to be this week with no school and just straight basketball," Harrow said. "Like, it's hard. It's hard to get through that whole week.

"It's hard to stay focused and everything, so we've just got to get through this week first."

There's plenty to focus on.

Calipari said his players have "got to come together as a team," and a few weeks of bonding - with just a short break for Christmas - should give his team time to grow together.

The Cats don't communicate enough, Calipari said. They quit on too many possessions. Those will be areas of concentration during the break.

"The crazy thing is we've made strides," Calipari said. "Now are we going to get where we need to go?"

The first step is admitting there's work to be done and being willing to work.

"There is a plan," Calipari said. "It's not working the way we're doing it."

Since the home loss to Baylor, UK's schedule has eased up. Including Saturday's game against Marshall, UK's four opponents between the Baylor game and a Dec. 29 trip Louisville have an average RPI of 246.

Polson said maybe once UK starts playing big-name opponents again, the Cats will look better. For now, UK is struggling to put together a full 40-minute game.

And the team knows it must get better if it wants to accomplish its goals. But with nothing but basketball on their plates for the next couple of weeks, don't count out the Cats.

"We're going to be around each other literally all day for two weeks, whether it's breakfast or dinner or practice, another practice," Polson said. "So we're going to get to know each other a lot more, and hopefully that'll pay off on the court."


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