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Cats trying to get past 'selfish' tendencies

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2M7V3034.jpgOne of the most defining and immeasurable characteristics about last year's Elite Eight men's basketball team was the bond the players formed as the season wore on.

Despite the countless accolades, the larger-than-life personalities and the NBA potential, last year's players put their talents and ambitions aside for the betterment of the team. As head coach John Calipari said last year, each individual player was his "brother's keeper." The 2009-10 Cats were marked by unselfishness.

Entering this season, with a team that was once again loaded with preseason accolades, Calipari cited the team's ability (or inability) to come together as one of the year's biggest factors. A 4-1 record and a top-25 win over Washington would seem to indicate the team is already meshing, but following an 84-67 wakeup call to Connecticut in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, Calipari said his team is still working through its "selfish" tendencies.

"We were a selfish team," Calipari said after Kentucky's loss to UConn. "I don't have any idea how or why we got that selfish. Maybe it started against Washington, because when you play them and they're trying to steal every ball you have to drive it and you're not going to have a lot of assists. We started the game and no one would pass."

Kentucky's youth showed up when Kemba Walker and UConn got hot in the first half against the Cats. During the Huskies' 21-2 run to close out the first half, the Cats forced drives, threw up unwarranted shots in the lane and didn't pass.

"I think as they made their run at us, everybody felt like I'm going to try to do my own thing," junior guard DeAndre Liggins said. "That's not team basketball and that's not winning basketball at all."

Part of it was youth and part of it was running into a buzz-saw like Walker. Freshman guard Brandon Knight played well at times, but 18 turnovers and only eight assists in three games was reflective of a player who, while extremely talented, has much to learn.

However, Liggins was quick to take the blame for some of the selfish play.

"It wasn't only the young guys; it was me, too," Liggins said. "It was me, I admit it. I've got to learn and keep moving forward."

Playing in an offense that stresses the drive and ability to play one-on-one can sometimes blur the line between selfish and unselfish play.

"It's very hard for me because I'm an attacking player," Liggins said. "I've just got to recognize what I've got. If the defense collapses, I've got a man wide open."

Finding the right balance between who can get to the lane and kick it out, who can shoot it, and who can be a low post presence is still a part of the learning process for this young UK team.

"We definitely need drivers. That's the whole reason the dribble-drive motion works," senior forward Josh Harrellson said. "You've got to have at least two or three good drivers on the floor just to get into the lane, penetrate and find the open players for shots."

Kentucky potentially has a hoard of third and fourth scoring options in players like Liggins, Doron Lamb and Jon Hood, but UK's offense frequently sputtered when some combination of the Knight/Darius Miller/Terrence Jones trio was out of the game.

Manufacturing offense when those players are in foul trouble or need a rest will be a huge key as the season goes on for a thin UK bench.

"That's definitely a tough situation," Harrellson said. "We've got to keep them out of foul trouble every game. When one of our two best players goes down, somebody has to step up and be an offensive threat whether that is DeAndre or Darius or even Jon Hood stepping up and making a few 3s."

But the problems didn't just pertain to offense. Liggins and Harrellson said Calipari, who was unavailable Monday because of his mother's death, got on the team for its defensive effort against the Huskies.

"We gave up a lot of easy baskets without helping each other out," Harrellson said. "(We were) primarily focusing on our own guy when we're supposed to be helping everybody."

Communication, or a lack thereof, was the central reason behind the Cats' selfish ways, Liggins and Harrellson agreed.

Before leaving for paradise nearly halfway across the globe, the players pointed to the Maui trip as an early learning test. Through five games, we've learned Kentucky is stacked with talent but plagued with youth and a lack of depth.

Minus the depth, it's a similar situation last year's bunch was in. Last year's group wasn't graced with a loss to learn about until late January. Will an early season "L" help bring this year's team together as it gets ready to face America East preseason favorite Boston on Tuesday?

"We want to get our losses out of the way," Harrellson said. "We want to learn from our mistakes right now instead of it happening in March and our season being over."

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