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November 26, 2013
Cats' schedule heats up starting with EMU visit
Kentucky was able to regroup, refocus and refine its poor performance against Cleveland State into a win.
Erasing the Vikings' 11-point lead with less than 15 minutes to play in the second half was impressive, but from here on out the Wildcats' schedule toughens up, starting Wednesday against undefeated Eastern Michigan, a team that beat Cleveland State by 12.
"They're like 5-0," John Calipari said. "They're going to play 40 minutes of zone."
That zone could trip up the Cats. After all, Cleveland State's zone -- Calipari called it a "funky 1-3-1" -- confused the Cats. Eastern Michigan will be ready to do more of the same.
And if UK doesn't cut out the slow starts, it can't bank on another 24-7 run to close out the game. It's unlikely to happen against Eastern Michigan, and seems even more improbable once the schedule rolls into December.
The Cats will leave Rupp Arena -- the reason many of the players and Calipari cited for the second half comeback -- and play neutral site games against Providence and Baylor.
Then UK hosts Boise State, a team on the verge of being ranked, before taking on its first true road test at North Carolina.
The Belmont and Louisville games to close out 2013 seem like ages away, but they go to show there won't be anymore cupcake games for the Cats.
"The good news is other than Michigan State, we kind of built them up," Calipari said. "Now Eastern Michigan is the next step. When we go farther, every other team takes us to another level."
And though UK won Monday, the Cats must be better going forward.
"If you have letdowns like we've had, again, let's be real, Cleveland State took advantage of everything we did wrong," Calipari said. "They did. Then they missed some shots. We rebounded. We made it a little tougher."
UK wants to make it tougher for inferior opponents for 40 minutes, not just the game's final five.
If Kentucky is able to do that, it will be able to just worry about finishing games, not finishing big comebacks.
"We can't take opponents lightly," Julius Randle said. "There are going to be things we have to do approaching games that are going to be different. Me personally for myself, I know I have to start off better. Just got to stop thinking so much and start playing, and we'll be fine."
Randle led the Cats in points (15) and rebounds (15) against the Vikings. The freshman, who's had a double-double in all six of his collegiate games, has generally been disappointed after games, but Monday he was optimistic about the fight UK showed.
"I wouldn't consider it a wakeup call," Randle said. "I think the biggest thing we've learned is we can come together during tough times and still prosper and still win games."
And Randle wasn't thrilled about the Cats' 40-minute effort, or lack thereof. Freshman James Young took it a step forward.
He said the team overlooked Cleveland State.
"We just didn't come out with as much fight and we just took them softly," Young said. "It really showed. We really just had to step up in the second half, which Coach Cal told us we just had to play back and just fight. So that's what we did."
And when the Cats listened to Calipari, it clicked and UK cruised.
"It just clicked," Young said. "We really just got all together and said 'We don't want to lose.' And once we all got together and told each other we can do it and to pick it up that's what we did. We tried to get the crowd involved and they responded with us and that's what helped us win."
Young said he wasn't surprised UK had a rough start because there are stretches in practiced that mirror the Cats' first half play.
In practice, UK is forced to run when that happens. In games, a loss is on the line.
"Some people lose focus or stop at a possession on defense or something and we'll run for it," Young said. "We're just getting better at it, but we're young, so we don't know everything. We're just trying to learn together as a team that's what we've been doing day-by-day."
And how long can Kentucky use youth as an excuse?
"Not very long actually," Young said. "I'd give it probably another two weeks and that has to go. We have to step up."