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December 15, 2012

Cats show improvement, but Calipari wants more

His players were braced to be blistered, to hear a mouthful from John Calipari about their questionable effort, their inconsistent intensity, their lacking communication.

Kentucky had beaten Lipscomb 88-50, had controlled the second half against the Bisons at Rupp Arena on Saturday. But the Wildcats knew they hadn't been at their best.

And so they figured Calipari might read them the riot act, point guard Ryan Harrow said. Instead, he scarcely said a word.

"Eight a.m. workouts," Harrow said Calipari told his team. "See you at practice."

And with that, Harrow said, Calipari left the locker room and left his enigmatic Cats (7-3) to ponder his brevity.

"That was actually good compared to what we thought we was gonna get," said Harrow, who got his first start since a season-opening win against Maryland and scored 10 points for UK. "It's still bad, because it's only a couple of words, but it was good compared to what we thought we was gonna get."

Harrow and his teammates thought they'd made some strides in thumping Lipscomb (4-5), and Calipari didn't deny that a week of "Camp Cal" - conditioning in the morning, practice in the afternoon - had done his Cats some good.

Some. Not enough.

"I thought I'd see more of a change," Calipari said. "I saw little change. We just went five days (of 'Camp Cal'), and I saw little change. So if I see a little change in this next week, from that point on, folks, we're not winning many. That's a fact."

Kentucky will have another week of practice and no midweek games before it faces Marshall next Saturday. Then it takes its third-straight midweek break before a Dec. 29 date with rival Louisville.

And the Cats as currently constructed aren't ready for that.

There are too many defensive lapses, too many wasted offensive possessions. In Calipari's mind, there still are too many gaps in Kentucky's effort and communication.

"If we don't start changing we're going to struggle," Calipari said. "That's just how it is. We've already struggled in any game that anybody had any physical toughness to them, we've struggled. You either want to change or you have your excuses of why it's happening. Let's just change. That's my thing."

And the Cats are trying to change, Harrow said.

At one point, Harrow admitted that he began yelling on defense - "Screen! Screen! Screen!" - just to let Calipari know he's trying to be communicative.

"The dude wasn't even up there to screen yet, so it was just something on defense that I thought was a defensive term…," Harrow said. "I was like, let me just say 'Let's go!' from now on."

That' not change Calipari's likely to believe in.

At one point Saturday, Harrow said, Calipari called his team "fakers" for doing what they're told in practice - where the threat of extra running looms - then reverting to bad habits at game time.

"We're trying hard, but just trying to put together a 40-minute game of competing hard and playing hard is kind of what we're struggling at," guard Jarrod Polson said. "We've had a hard week, tough week of practice. I think it did help a little, but at the same time we know we have a long way to go, and (Calipari) knows that. So hopefully the next two weeks and on will help us."

Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson watched his team lose by 38 points, turn the ball over 24 times and score just 21 points after halftime on Saturday, but he left his postgame news conference sounding less impressed with the Wildcats than intrigued by what they could be.

Kentucky "doesn't necessarily force you into turnovers," Sanderson said, suggesting that most of the Bisons' miscues were self-inflicted.

The Cats don't guard the ball, he said, as well as SEC foe Ole Miss, which beat Lipscomb 91-45 last month. UK came out in the second half unprepared, Sanderson said.

"If those guys buy in and not resist what (Calipari's) trying to teach them, they've got a chance to be as good as they want to be," Sanderson said. "But if they resist the coaching, that's on them. He hadn't won a national championship last year and been successful and been the coach at Kentucky not being successful."

The Cats are listening, Harrow said, whether Calipari is saying a mouthful in practice or just a few words after Saturday's game. They're learning. They're trying.

Eventually, he insisted, UK will get on the same page.

"(With) all of us playing well, it'll be the team that everybody's expecting," Harrow said. "With this time off (between games), we'll get to jell a little bit more and then come January and February, we'll be the team everybody has been looking for."


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