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February 27, 2013

Notes: Mays speaks up; Cats look to keep surging

Nobody likes to get yelled at.

But sometimes it's easier to take when it's from someone going through what you're going through.

So when it's Julius Mays getting on his teammates instead of coach John Calipari, "it's different," guard Jarrod Polson said.

Mays, whose Wildcats face Mississippi State Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Rupp Arena, is more relatable.

"Probably the (biggest) thing is he's just out there with us," Polson said. "It's not like he's just standing on the bench yelling at us. He's out there with us, he's playing with us. … You can kind of take it in and it's like, you're out there with us, you know what's going on."

What's going on when Mays gets on his teammates is usually something that needs fixed. It could be a player turning down a ball screen. It could be a player not boxing out. It could be a player failing to rotate on defense.

Whatever it is, Mays will be in his teammates' ears. And they're fine with that.

"He's really probably the player that's been on other players most," Polson said. "Being the older guy, and he plays his butt off - we can look at that and not get mad at him for yelling at us."

Not that the team doesn’t respond to Calipari's criticisms.

"No, he definitely needs to yell at us," Polson said. "We need a little yelling-at every once in a while. We're not mad he yells at us."

It's just that it's a little easier to ingest when it's coming from another player.

Mays cut off Calipari during last Saturday's win against Missouri and told him he'd deliver a message intended for Ryan Harrow.

"I knew what (Calipari) was about to tell him, so I just stopped him ahead of time, told him that I got him," Mays said after the game. "Plus, it was a crucial point in the game and I didn't want Ryan to get down on himself, so I figured I would talk to him instead of letting Coach."

And it helps that Mays isn't making many mistakes of his own. He's averaging 10.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, and is shooting 45.5 percent from outside in conference play.

"When you're playing like that, you can get on other players a little bit and have the freedom to do that," Polson said.

Calipari said that Mays has "taken on the role of holding people accountable" as a senior leader. Mays sees the same problems, hears the same excuses, and can hold his teammates just as responsible as Calipari would.

"Thank goodness he's on this team because we didn't - holding it together has been a job that he's done," Calipari said.

No going back
The Cats found their spark, now there is no excuse not to keep it lit.

Against Missouri Saturday, UK played with an energy Calipari had been begging for all season. The Cats didn't fold when the Tigers made a run and UK was able to secure a signature win.

Calipari saw what his players were capable of against the Tigers, so there's no excuse not to see that every night.

"The great thing is now they're eliminating and they're being eliminated every cop out and excuse they can use," Calipari said. "There are none left. It's just, you got to battle. You're talented enough, you're good enough, we have enough guys.

"What excuse or cop out can you use now? You just got to go play."

The overtime win against the Tigers shows the Cats are finding their identity. In a year in which UK has had to overcome, illnesses and injuries to two big bodies, the Cats have finally settled on a style of play post Nerlens Noel.

And it's a style that won't allow the Cats to be outworked. Kyle Wiltjer said the Cats have to play scrappy the rest of the season.

An 88-58 loss at Tennessee woke the team up and showed the Cats if they didn't play harder they could expect more of the same.

"But at the same time, we just knew that after that Tennessee game we were going to have to bring more energy - every single player," Polson said.

Calipari was happy with the effort against Missouri but isn't sold the Cats won't revert back.

But he and the team realizes that if they continue to play like they did against Missouri these new look Cats will be tough to beat.

And while UK has been looking for its identity since October, the ups-and-downs have only made the Cats stronger.

"I think it's just built character, really," Polson said. "Not everyone's going to be there every game. We've been through a lot of adversity this season, but every time we've kind of stepped up, a little bit more each player. So it's worked so far."

Noel surgery set
Noel's surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament has been set, Calipari said.

Calipari didn't specify the date, but it is expected to be soon. A UK spokesman said it is considered private information until the family allows the school to release that information.

Calipari said Noel has been "in a good frame of mind" in the week and a half following the injury. His mother was in town this weekend, Calipari said, to visit with him.

"She was great," Calipari said. "They know we've really dotted i's and crossed t's and made sure one way or another he was in good shape, and she appreciated it."

The procedure, however, will be just the beginning for Noel. After that, he will start the rehabilitation process. Calipari said Boston Celtic point guard Rajon Rondo - who tore his ACL earlier this year - called it "the toughest and the most painful thing I've ever been through in my life."

Mental strength will be the key for Noel, Calipari said, as he starts his comeback.

"There's no slacking off, there's no, 'Well, I'm not going to go hard today.' No. You got five months of work, and I've told him that. And I think he's up for it."

Minds on State, not March
After the Cats won what was considered a "must win game," some experts consider UK a lock for the tournament. Others say there's still work to be done.

But UK isn't listening, whether it's positive or negative.

"No, I don't really pay attention to that kind of stuff," Wiltjer said.

Wiltjer jokingly asked the media if they looked at bracket predictions. But he wasn't kidding when he said the Cats were just focused on improving.

They believe if they play their game, the NCAA tournament will work itself out.

"We're just focused on getting better every day and listening to what Coach Cal has to offer," Wiltjer said. "He's always got good insight and stuff we can get better at."

And Calipari said if the Cats continue working, not only will UK make the tournamentâ€"but they can do something special.

"All I know is if our team gets better and does what they're supposed to, we have the talent to not only play in that tournament, to advance," Calipari said.

However, there is a catch.

"But we got to prove ourselves every night out," Calipari said.


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