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January 20, 2014

Slow-start problem plagues Cats as A&M visits

Kentucky has created a pattern of making things tougher on itself this season.

Slow starts are a recurring issue for the Wildcats, as they consistently find themselves facing early deficits.

"It's been a habit," freshman guard Aaron Harrison said.

In the 13 games UK has used its normal starting lineup -- Willie Cauley-Stein, Julius Randle, James Young, and Aaron and Andrew Harrison -- the Cats have scored 0.73 points per possession and allowed 1.13 points per possession in their opening "shift" from tip-off to the game's first substitution.

In raw numbers, opponents have outscored UK by 23 points in 37:45 of combined game time in those intervals.

"If we had the answer to that (problem), we'd be good," assistant coach John Robic said.

He's hoping they can find a solution starting with Tuesday's game against Texas A&M.

The problem is not necessarily those specific five players as a group on the court. Excluding those opening "shifts," the starting lineup has scored 1.12 points per possession and allowed 0.98 as a unit.

Coach John Calipari has nixed the idea of needing a lineup switch to solve those problems.

"If we need to put a guy in, I'll put him in a minute into the game," Calipari said last week.

And it's not the way they prepare for the game, said Robic, who noted that "pre-game warmups have been really good" throughout the season, though Young said that, "Even in practice, we start off a little slow."

Harrison said the starters must come out of the game with "more energy" and "a chip on our shoulder" to combat the intensity opponents usually carry into a game against the Cats.

"It's a little bit of execution and a little bit mental," Harrison said. "But we're getting better at it."

Texas A&M will be another challenge to get up to speed. The Aggies' defense ranks 30th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Robic said they're a team that doesn't gamble, but instead prefers to make teams grind out possessions and challenge shots.

"They mix things up between their man-to-man and zone," Robic said. "We're going to have to do a good job of penetrating, being ready to shoot, and hopefully do a little bit of damage on the offensive glass."

Harrison said the increased energy that Calipari wants to see the starters bring is "inside all of us," but not something that will emerge on its own.

He's hoping the improving cohesiveness of the team will help.

"We're just learning how playing hard together is more fun," Harrison said, "than just playing well individually and not winning."

The winning could come even easier if the Wildcats could stop digging themselves into early holes.

"Yeah, that's what a lot of people keep saying and it's just not sinking in to us yet," Young said. "It will sooner or later."

TEXAS A&M AT KENTUCKY | TUESDAY | 9 P.M. | ESPN
No. 14 KENTUCKY (13-4, 3-1 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (136-30 in fifth season at Kentucky; 539-168 in 22nd season overall)
Last game: Beat Tennessee 74-66
Roster | Stats
TEXAS A&M (12-5, 3-1 SEC)
Coach: Billy Kennedy (44-38 in third season at Texas A&M; 225-217 in 16th season overall)
Last game: Lost to Mississippi State 81-72 (OT)
Roster | Stats
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Andrew Harrison Fr. 6-6/215 11.5 2.8
G Aaron Harrison Fr. 6-6/218 14.1 3.2
F Willie Cauley-Stein So. 7-0/244 8.4 7.4
F James Young Fr. 6-6/215 14.2 4.4
F Julius Randle Fr. 6-9/250 16.9 10.5
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Alex Caruso So. 6-5/183 9.1 3.5
G Fabyon Harris Sr. 5-11/178 6.9 2.1
G Jordan Green Jr. 6-5/188 7.5 2.5
F Jamal Jones Jr. 6-8/197 12.3 3.9
F Kourtney Roberson Jr. 6-9/244 9.9 7.3
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: Rupp Arena (23,000), Lexington, Ky.
TV: CBS (Brad Nessler play-by play, Jimmy Dykes analyst, Shannon Spake sideline)
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst, Matt Jones sideline); XM 91/Sirius 91
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: Kentucky by 14.5

Series Information
Series record: Kentucky leads 3-2
At Lexington: Tied 2-2
Coaches' records: Calipari 2-1 vs. Texas A&M; Kennedy 1-1 vs. Kentucky

Last meeting:Kentucky 72, Texas A&M 68 OT (Feb. 2, 2013, College Station, Texas)
In the second meeting of the season between the two teams -- Elston Turner's 40-point game led the Aggies to a win in the first -- Julius Mays and Nerlens Noel scored 19 points each to lead the Wildcats to an overtime win. UK limited Turner to 21 points on 7-of-23 shooting and pulled out a win despite giving up a late second-half lead. The Aggies outscored the Cats 41-32 in the second half to force the extra session. Kyle Wiltjer had 10 points and five rebounds for Kentucky.

Game Storylines
1. Turner Two?: Texas A&M doesn't have a scorer like Elston Turner, who had 61 points in two games against the Wildcats last season, but swingman Jamal Jones has been doing his best impression lately. Jones is averaging 20.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in conference play and is shooting 46.2 percent from three-point range against SEC opponents. And like Turner, he's capable of catching fire in a hurry. In A&M's win at Tennessee on Jan. 11, he scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half, shooting 7 of 12 from the floor after halftime.

2. Rebounds Rule: Kentucky is coming off its worst rebounding performance of the season, having been outrebounded 39-24 in Saturday's win against Tennessee. The Cats focused on boxing out this week in practice, and coaches continued to work with perimeter players on finding a man rather than watching the ball. Texas A&M shouldn't provide the test on the glass that Tennessee did. The Aggies outrebound their opponents by an average of less than a rebound per game and rank ninth in the league in rebounding margin. Only Mississippi State and Alabama average fewer rebounds per game than Texas A&M's 35.6, and the Aggies rank last in the league in offensive rebounds at 9.9 per game.

3. Block Party: Texas A&M isn't a big team, but it is an athletic one, and that's reflected in its improvement as a shot-blocking club. The Aggies ranked last in the SEC with 98 blocked shots last season (Nerlens Noel had 106 by himself in 24 games). A&M already has 86 blocks this season and ranks sixth in the league, averaging 5.1 blocks per game. The Aggies have blocked at least seven shots in a game seven times this season after doing it just twice last season. Their leading shot blocker is guard Alex Caruso, who also leads A&M in assists and steals.



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