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November 1, 2013

Calipari uses bench as teaching tool in easy win

He'd already made a rare five-man substitution, and Kentucky coach John Calipari didn't seem to have another planned.

But with 5:57 to play in the Wildcats' 76-42 exhibition win against Transylvania on Friday, the Pioneers made a three-pointer, turned over the Cats and made another.

And though it cut the UK lead only to 64-40, it was enough for Calipari.

Five new players went to the scorer's table.

"You just know you just didn't play hard enough," center Dakari Johnson -- among the five players who left the game after the Transy flurry -- said of seeing five new players march off the bench. "Just gotta play harder. And you never know if you're going to get back in the game, so while you're out there, you just gotta give it 100 percent."

Calipari unveiled a team full of weapons in Friday's exhibition rout, but the perhaps the strongest one at his disposal is the bench. A season after struggling with a lack of depth, the Kentucky coach is making good on his promise to send his players to the pine when he doesn't see results.

The message: Give effort or take a seat.

"That's a pretty firm message, and it's true, because we have so many guys, so many players that came here to win," said forward Julius Randle, who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds Friday to lead UK. "And if you're not trying to win basketball games and compete and play hard, then you don't deserve to be on the court."

It was a strong statement from a player whose team won by 34 points, but it was that sort of night for the Wildcats, who cruised but rarely seemed to click on all cylinders.

Some of that, perhaps, was attributable to the absence of Andrew Harrison, UK's starting point guard, who sat out the game with a bone bruise in his knee, ceding point guard duties to his shooting-guard twin brother Aaron Harrison.

But while execution might have suffered in Andrew's absence, Calipari was concerned more with effort -- or lack therof -- in stretches of the blowout.

Only James Young, Calipari said, played with the defensive intensity he wanted. Calipari lamented that players stopped playing defensively, held the ball offensively and said that his team "had a lot of non-competitive guys out there."

And when he saw that, he corrected it, typically by giving the offender a seat on the bench.

The lesson learned Friday night, Calipari said, is that "energy and effort trumps talent," though when players provide both, "then you dominate play."

"Obviously our talent isn't playing with enough energy and effort," Calipari said.

And when his players don't bring both, they sit.

"I think he put that message out tonight by doing the five-man rotation, and that's something we couldn't really do last year because we didn't have enough players," guard Jarrod Polson said. "That's what he tells us a lot, if you're not contributing and helping the team, then he's going to sit you. He has the players to do it this year."

The back-to-back three-pointers were Calipari's tipping point against Transylvania. Those six points represented half of the Pioneers' second-half total.

So out went Randle, Johnson, Harrison, Young and Derek Willis and in came Polson, Dominique Hawkins, Jon Hood, Marcus Lee and Willie Cauley-Stein.

"He can really do that, because we have a lot of players that can just fill in for you," Johnson said. "So if you don't do what he says, then you're not gonna get the playing time that you want. And he really doesn't care who you are. If you don't play hard for him, then he's just gonna sit you."


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