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December 11, 2013

Cats shut down Boise, but Calipari's praise is faint

The lanes were cut off. The shots were contested. Boise State came into Rupp Arena on Tuesday as the nation's second-leading scoring team, but it could find few avenues for buckets at Kentucky.

For perhaps the first time this season, the 11th-ranked Wildcats showed the potential to lock down an offense in methodically pulling away from the Broncos, winning 70-55.

John Calipari was impressed.

Sort of.

"That team is as hard to guard as any team you'll play," Calipari said. "They spread the court. They can shoot threes. I told them before the game, I told coach (Leon Rice), 'You guys run the dribble drive better than we ran it back in Memphis.' They spaced the court."

In holding Boise State 37 points below its scoring average, Calipari said, the Cats (8-2), "did some good stuff" defensively.

If that seems like faint praise, it's by design.

For a half against Providence two weeks ago, Kentucky looked like a world-beater. But a battering on the boards in a beating against Baylor humbled the Wildcats and infuriated their coach.

"We had one of these games and we came back and we reverted, we stepped back," Calipari said. "This is going to be an everyday process."

So despite his team's 15-point win against previously unbeaten Boise State (8-1), Calipari wasn't about to pepper it with plaudits, a withholding approach that forward Julius Randle called "exactly right."

"We played great versus Providence and then we took steps back versus Baylor," said Randle, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds against the Broncos. "He's not gonna praise us like that."

Still, there were some praises to be sung.

James Young scored 21 points and made four three-pointers in 11 tries. Willie Cauley-Stein had six points, seven rebounds a nine blocked shots, and guarded almost as well on the perimeter as in the paint. Randle had a double-double for the first time in three games.

Twins Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison scored 13 points each. After a 3 for 7 first half, UK made 9 of 11 second-half free throws.

And then there was that defense.

Kentucky held Boise, a 50.9 percent shooting team entering the game, to 31.9 percent from the floor. The Broncos came in averaging 8.2 three-pointers per game. The Cats held them to 5 for 17 shooting outside the arc.

UK's size -- and its ability to switch almost everything -- gave Boise State fits. Rice compared it to "me with my 10-year-old son in the driveway."

"We can do all the right things and try to battle, but they are just so physically imposing, and I thought they were really, really dialed in, and I knew they would be," Rice said. "I have never underestimated Coach Calipari. He's one of the best out there, and they're getting better. They're coming."

Maybe not fast enough for Calipari. And maybe with too many detours.

"Look, this is a work in progress," Calipari said. "We still have stuff we're going to keep experimenting with and trying until we get it right."

The Cats still had too many turnovers (19, which led to 18 Boise State points), and too many of those were unforced.

"It was (against) a sagging man to man," Calipari said. "It wasn't like they were out trapping us and going nuts."

Kentucky still looks disinterested at times, still goes long stretches without any offensive cohesiveness. And the road only gets tougher with a trip to North Carolina on Saturday.

"Good news is, then we got finals and we got time," Calipari said. "After that we got a week, then I believe we have another week. We have time, whatever we're going to do, whatever changes we're going to make."

The Cats made positive ones on Tuesday.

But neither Calipari nor his players was ready to praise it as a leap forward.

"I think we took a big step back from the Baylor game, so we just back where we as at before that," Cauley-Stein said. "And now we've just got to make sure this next game that we just keep it up and guard like that again and then just start from there and just keep on building on little things until it just becomes perfection."


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