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What we've learned from UK so far

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10_UK_Pikeville_04_BW.JPGKentucky rolled to a 97-66 victory over Pikeville in a foul-infested contest on Monday night in the first of two exhibition games this year.

There were fouls, mistakes, fouls, a few nice plays here and there, and more fouls. It was everything one would expect from the first competition of the season against a different team.

"We really had no real fight or viciousness to our game," head coach John Calipari said. "The thing with a game like this, I think Pikeville came out, which every team we play does, with a high energy level, aggressiveness. They were pretty big kids. They were seniors. They banged our freshmen around.

"If we learn from this, this was a great game to play. If we don't learn from this, we've got to do it some other way. I've got to get them to understand. That means probably I've got to get meaner, which I don't like to do. 'Just learn. You know what just happened. Let's get better.' "

The exhibitions, and the preseason to a larger extent, are all about learning. Now that we've finally seen the Cats against somebody other than themselves, let's take a look back at some other things we've learned so far:

1. Brandon Knight is going to have to score a lot (at least early on) - With few veterans to count on, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins in the NBA, and relatively no go-to, established players on the inside without Enes Kanter for the time being, Kentucky is going to need Knight to continue to play like he has in Canada, the Blue-White Scrimmage and Monday's exhibition game.

Knight scored 22 points on 6-of-11 shooting Monday night, but it was his steadying influence that proved to be the most important against the Bears.

When the Cats got off to an anxious and slow start, Knight took over the game in the first half and turned an early deficit into a double-digit lead. From the14:29 mark, Knight scored the next eight of Kentucky's 16 points, turning a three-point Pikeville lead into a 26-17 advantage.

"What I like is he has a fight," Calipari said. "When he saw we were dying, he took it and drove it. 'I'm going to do it.' At times I'm going to just let him go. If no one else wants to do it, go do it all."

Calipari was pleased with Knight's leadership but said Kentucky can't win if it's all on Knight.
"He's got to get a feel for how we're playing," Calipari said. "He's got to understand, you can't just drive in the first play of the game. You got to get everybody involved.  He's got a green light.  Get everybody involved. When you see spots, go take your place." 

What Knight did provide on a night that featured what Calipari said was his team's fewest "hustle points" in the last four or five years, was some fire and leadership when UK needed it the most. Knight continually got to the line with drives in transition when Pikeville started to impose its will.

"I think it starts off with me just being able to pick the guy up in front of me and diving for loose balls and talking to my teammates," Knight said. "I think if I exhibit that energy it will transfer to them."

2. UK can't afford for Terrence Jones to get in foul trouble: Knight had to take over, in part, because Knight's scoring partner in the Blue-White Scrimmage was glued to the bench with two early fouls.

Jones put his versatility on display in last week's scrimmage with 29 points, but Jones struggled to find the same rhythm against the Bears. The 6-foot-8 freshman scored just nine points and committed six turnovers in 22 minutes of foul-riddled action.

With Kanter's eligibility still in question and with no timetable on when the decision will come, Jones will be counted on largely for UK's interior points.

Although Kentucky finished with 40 points in the paint, almost all of those were off drives by the guards. Between Jones, Eloy Vargas and Josh Harrellson, UK's current primary inside threats, the Cats got 17 points on 3-of-10 shooting.

The most troubling statistic in the paint was Pikeville's 14 offensive rebounds.

"Offensive rebounding, that's got to be one of our main things," Calipari said. "We've got to be a team that really goes and offensive rebounds. Today, again, some of our guards got them, but you're not going to get them in a real game. A two guard or a point guard is not going to rebound in an offensive game."

Jones settled down a little bit late in the game and finished with nine points and seven rebounds. 

3. UK could shoot a lot of free throws in the dribble-drive: The question now is can they make them?

After a slow start at the charity stripe, the Cats ended up hitting 44 of 56 free throws. Yes, 56 free throws.

The most encouraging stat was that Knight, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb, UK's three primary ball handlers, went 28 of 32 from the line.

"What you want them is to be confident and go in there and get fouled so you want to go to the line," Calipari said. "Darius goes 11 for 12. Brandon goes 9 for 10. Doron goes 8 for 10. That's because they're driving the ball and getting fouled."

With referees being encouraged to call more hand checks, the number of fouls, especially in UK's dribble-drive offense, could be on the rise.

Calipari has made sure to tell his players of the new rule and emphasize the need to take advantage of it.

"I think that's going to help us offensively because we're driving to the paint continuously," Knight said. "We've just got to learn to drive straight at our defenders and not sideways. I think it's going to help us get to the line a lot more. We're going to be able to defend against it because the dribble-drive is all we run."

4. Miller will be counted on for leadership: Vastly overlooked in comparing last year's youthful team with this year's inexperience bunch is lack of veteran leaders.

Without the calming influences of Patrick Patterson, Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson, this team might actually be younger in terms of leadership and game experience. One of the few returning players with significant action over the past couple of years is Miller, who will be counted on this year for more than just points.

Miller recorded a double-double Monday with 21 points and 10 rebounds, providing a reassuring authority with key drives and foul shots as Pikeville hung around. The key now for Miller is consistency, Calipari said.

"I think Darius did some good things and there were other times he just stopped playing," Calipari said. "You can't do that with freshmen because they are going to stop playing."
Miller went 11 of 12 at the line, most of which came down the stretch. The junior agreed with his coach's assessment.

"I think that's something I have to work on, not getting caught up and just watching the play," Miller said. "We're all going to have to do a better job of it than we did tonight. ... We didn't play with that intensity that we thought we should have. It's our first exhibition game so hopefully it gets better with time."

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1 Comment

I thought Liggins played a very good game. Nobody out hustled him. Sometimes he passes up a good shot that he needs to take. Vargas needs to get meaner on the boards and when he does he will be a rebounder because he is like Dennis Rodman.

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  • Katbluefan: I thought Liggins played a very good game. Nobody out hustled him. Sometimes he passes up a good shot that read more
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