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November 7, 2013

Calipari has time (and will need it) to get Cats ready

John Calipari was a man with a plan.

And then he scrapped it.

The Kentucky coach was headed to work on Thursday -- a day before his top-ranked Wildcats open the season against UNC Asheville -- and realized that what he had in store wasn't sufficient. So that practice plan was out.

"Tore that one up and did another one," Calipari said. I don't know if I've ever done that before."

He can afford to hit the reset button in November.

Calipari's team will play three games in the next five days, beginning with the Bulldogs on Friday and culminating in a date with No. 2 Michigan State next Tuesday in Chicago. But as he typically does, he's building for games further down the road.

"Look, I was thinking about it today, I was driving over here and I starting doing 'November, December, January, February -- I've got four months to get this thing right,'" Calipari said. "Four months. And if I try to do it in two weeks, I'm going to cheat the kids and drive myself crazy."

He has enough work to keep him busy for those four months.

In the short term, his to-do list includes broadening his team's defensive capability and narrowing its rotation.

"Long way," senior Jon Hood said of how close Kentucky is to Calipari's vision defensively. "We've got the main stuff in. We've got the stuff that we have to get in -- rotations, pick-and-roll. We don't have any zone in, don't have any press in. That's stuff that you can put in, but with three games in five days, you really can't prepare and can't put stuff in the day before a game, as far as defensively."

The Wildcats still are determining their roles defensively, still are seeking perimeter stoppers and shot blockers. They're still working to master the concept of team defense.

"Once we get to the part where everybody trusts everybody and you know you can gamble and somebody's going to have your back, that's where our defense is going to sky rocket," forward Willie Cauley-Stein said.

Kentucky's not there yet.

The Cats need "more effort, more intensity, more fight, more concentration" on defense, Calipari said.

But it might need fewer players. At least in the teeth of the game.

Point guard Andrew Harrison returned to practice Wednesday and is likely to play Friday after missing both of Kentucky's exhibition wins. He hasn't played since the first half of the Blue-White Scrimmage. Twin brother Aaron Harrison split the point guard duties with Jarrod Polson in Andrew's absence.

"It's like you're playing your football game and your wide receiver is your quarterback," Calipari said. "Now your quarterback comes back and you're like, 'OK, now guys are in the right spots.'"

But Andrew's return likely means someone else will lose minutes.

Calipari reiterated on Thursday that he likely won't play double-digit players in significant parts of the game, citing a conversation he had with former UCLA coach John Wooden about the perils of trying to play too many.

"You can't try to play 10 guys," Calipari said. "Now, you can try to get 12 in the game, but in the heat of a game, you can't play that many guys."

So Calipari said he wants "maybe eight, but more likely seven" players in his main rotation. The Harrison twins, Julius Randle, James Young,Dakari Johnson and Cauley-Stein seem like locks for those spots, and Alex Poythress -- whom Calipari said has played well in recent practices -- also is a probable rotation player.

Even with a narrowed rotation, Calipari said, "it may be two months" before his players become a unit, and he's comfortable with that timetable.

Sort of.

"So what?" Calipari said. "I drove in today and smiled and said, 'I've got four months; don't be panicking' -- as I had both feet on the panic button."

He likely won't have reason to panic on Friday against Asheville, nor on Sunday when Northern Kentucky visits. Next week's Champions Classic clash with Michigan State is another matter.

Still, Calipari is taking the long view.

"I've got four months," Calipari said. "I've got four months. To help this team put them in a position of how they're going to play offensively and defensively to do something special. It's just we are what we are right now."

Coach: John Calipari (123-26 in fifth season at Kentucky; 526-164 in 22nd season overall)
Last game: Season opener
Roster | Stats
Coach: Nick McDevitt (0-0 in first season at UNC Asheville and overall)
Last game: Season opener
Roster | Stats
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Andrew Harrison Fr. 6-6/215 -- --
G Aaron Harrison Fr. 6-6/218 -- --
F Willie Cauley-Stein So. 7-0/244 -- --
F James Young Fr. 6-6/215 -- --
F Julius Randle Fr. 6-9/250 -- --
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Corey Littlejohn Jr. 6-3/180 -- --
G Andrew Rowsley Fr. 5-10/175 -- --
C D.J. Cunningham Sr. 6-10/240 -- --
F Jaron Lane Sr. 6-4/185 -- --
F Will Weeks So. 6-6/220 -- --
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: Rupp Arena (23,000), Lexington, Ky
TV: Fox Sports South (Dave Baker play-by play, Larry Conley analyst, Tom Werme sideline)
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst, Matt Jones sideline); XM 199/Sirius 93.
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: No line

Series Information
Series record: Kentucky leads 3-0
At Lexington: Kentucky leads 2-0
Coaches' records: Calipari 1-0 vs. UNC Asheville; Nick McDevitt 0-0 vs. Kentucky

Last meeting: Kentucky 94, UNC Ashville 57, Nov. 30, 2009 (Louisville, Ky.)
DeMarcus Cousins had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and John Wall scored 12 points and dished out a UK freshman record 14 assists as the Wildcats rolled to an easy win at Freedom Hall. Patrick Patterson added 17 points for Kentucky, which matched its best start prior to 2004 by moving to 7-0 on the season. The Cats led 45-23 at the half and at one point had a 29-6 run in the second half. Kentucky outscored UNCA 50-16 in the paint.

Game Storylines
1. All Hands on Deck: Andrew Harrison (bruised knee) should return at point guard after missing Kentucky's two exhibition games. He was back at practice on Thursday. James Young (sprained ankle) is a bigger question mark after he spent Thursday's practice running "up and down the court limping," Calipari said. But after wearing a walking boot as a precaution for a day, he was without one in recent days.

2. Getting Defensive: Kentucky's defense has some improving to do, based on the results of its two exhibition games. The Cats held Transylvania to 42 points, but 30 of those came in the first half. And Montevallo put up 72, including 30 from one player, guard Troran Brown. Said Calipari: " We don't understand intensity, and there's so many nuances of defense that we don't have down yet."

3. Fast Starts: Kentucky is 90-19 all-time in season openers, including 4-0 under Calipari. The Cats are 22-3 in November games under Calipari and 96-24 in the month overall. UK is 494-62 all-time in Rupp Arena and has won 150 of its last 175 games in the building. Since the start of the 2000 season, Calipari-coached teams are 221-21 at home, a .913 winning percentage. His Kentucky teams are 67-2 in four seasons at Rupp Arena.

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