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November 10, 2013

Point guard Harrison settles in as Cats cruise

While he was sitting out preseason Kentucky basketball practices with a bruised knee, point guard Andrew Harrison was required to ride a courtside stationary bike and observe.

He put more miles on it than he'd care to count.

"Man," Harrison said Sunday after No. 1 UK rocked Northern Kentucky 93-63. "Hundreds."

Harrison is back on the court now for the Wildcats (2-0), is prepared for a titanic tilt Tuesday with No. 2 Michigan State at the United Center in Chicago. But that time on the bike -- and on the bench during UK's two exhibition games -- has done him some good.

Yes, he wanted to be on the court. Sure, the rhythm with his teammates isn't where it might otherwise be.

"But at the same time, sitting on the bench and watching the game, you can see the stuff that we need to work on," said Harrison, who had 13 points, two assists and two rebounds Sunday against the Norse. "And I think that helped me a little bit, just being the point guard."

And Kentucky has plenty to work on.

At times it looked like a well-oiled machine on Sunday, shooting 54.5 percent from the floor, holding the Norse to 32.8 percent and leading by as many as 36 points in the second half.

The Wildcats outrebounded NKU -- which battled Purdue to a 35-35 draw on the boards in a one-point loss Friday night -- by an eye-popping 51-23 margin.

Still, there are times when the Cats don't play hard enough, coach John Calipari said, when the stop mid-play. Players still hold the ball too much (hence only 12 assists on 30 baskets Sunday) and don't react quickly enough.

And sometimes Harrison is at fault as much as anyone.

Harrison plays with the ball too much, Calipari said. He overdribbles. He stands when he should cut.

But he's getting better.

"Whatever I teach him becomes his," Calipari said. "He's like that. He's on me. He zones in. He knows."

And his teammates know they're better with Harrison on the floor.

"He's our leader, our floor general, and he just makes things so much easier for us," said forward Julius Randle, who led UK with 22 points and 14 rebounds Sunday. "He brings a great spirit and leadership to the floor and makes the game a lot more fun."

And Harrison is having fun. Sometimes.

He admits that playing point guard for Calipari is a challenge. The UK coach is notorious for giving his point guards grief -- "He's trying to see if they're gonna cave or not," Willie Cauley-Stein said -- and for demanding the most of them.

"You have to be tough," Harrison said. "You have to know whatever he says, he's trying to help. You can't really take it personally. You just have to play. And if you're playing hard, he doesn't really have too much to say."

He had plenty to say Sunday, chastising Harrison for too much standing, for failing to cut out and get out of slashers' way after he passed the ball. But Harrison is used to talkative teachers. His no-nonsense father is one.

Harrison knew better than to talk back to Aaron Harrison Sr. He's taken the same approach to Calipari.

"He's going to be terrific," Calipari said. "He's going to be really good."

The Cats can be, too.

On Tuesday, Harrison and his teammates will get a sense of where they stand when they meet Michigan State in the Champions Classic. After missing him for a good chunk of preseason practice and two exhibition games, the Wildcats still are learning their identity with their point guard.

So far, they like what they're finding out.

"I think we improved every game, so that's good," Harrison said. "But at the same time, we can be so much better than what we are right now. And I think that's the best part and that's what makes it fun."


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