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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."