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November 19, 2013

Cats break century mark, but defense concerns Calipari

The defense will come in time.

Of that, Andrew Harrison is certain.

There was little evidence Tuesday night -- has been little this season, really -- that No. 4 Kentucky can lock down the perimeter. The Wildcats' offense did most of the heavy lifting in a 105-76 rout of Texas Arlington.

But the Wildcats (4-1) will come to put an end to those blow-by dribbles, Harrison said. What you saw against the Mavericks (2-3) will soon be a thing of the past.

"We have no choice," Harrison said. "Me and (twin brother) Aaron definitely have to pick it up defensively. Basically, it just comes down to one-on-one and having to stop your man one-on-one. So our guards, we're definitely going to work on that and get better with that."

John Calipari won't have it any other way.

The Kentucky coach was unfulfilled by his team's stat-sheet stuffing win on Tuesday, was particularly disappointed in a first half in which UT Arlington outrebounded the Wildcats 21-17 and trailed by only nine points.

And he's unsatisfied so far with his team's ability to contain dribble penetration, a shortcoming that was a factor in UK's only loss this season, against Michigan State last week in Chicago.

It reared its head again Tuesday against Arlington's smaller, quicker guards. Reger Dowell and Lonnie McClanahan shot a combined 8 for 28, but created some havoc off the dribble.

Mavericks coach Scott Cross said "about the only chance you have" offensively is to beat Kentucky's bigger perimeter defenders -- the 6-foot-6 Harrison twins and 6-foot-7 James Young -- off the dribble.

"We stopped playing," Calipari said. "Guys stood straight up and down. You're going to get beat on the dribble. The new rules make you move your feet. Well, to move your feet, you have to bend down, you have to get in a defensive stance and get wide and you have to beat them to spots."

The Cats didn't do enough of that against the Mavericks. Not that it mattered much.

UT Arlington likes to play a fast pace, and Kentucky obliged. The Cats scored 63 second-half points and got explosive offensive games from Young (26 points) and Julius Randle, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth double-double in as many college games.

Willie Cauley-Stein added 14 points and 10 rebounds. Andrew Harrison added career highs in points (15) and assists (six).

None of it meant much to Calipari, who was vocal during and after the game about his team not giving enough effort.

"I'm going to be as hard as I can on these guys until they start changing," Calipari said. "And today in the first half I had every right to be angry."

There were things Calipari liked. The Cats had 18 assists to eight turnovers. They dominated the glass in the second half to finish the game with a 46-34 advantage on the boards.

But Calipari's concerns about effort and defense are real.

Defensively, Kentucky's bad at communication ("We talk, but we talk very quietly," Calipari said), a product, perhaps of high school habits his freshmen haven't broken yet.

"In high school, we just played zone," Young said. "We didn't really do much defense, and we barely talked to each other. One we got here, it was new probably for everybody. We're getting used to it."

And they're growing accustomed to what Calipari wants from them. Kentucky's perimeter players understand their deficiencies -- "When we get tired, we tend to stand up a little bit," Young said, for example -- and are committed to corrections.

"It's not going to change over a day, like Coach Cal's been saying," Young said. "We've just been working on it, and I feel like towards the middle of the season or in a couple weeks, we'll definitely be where we should and stepping up on defense."


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