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From the Pressbox: Notes from Tom Leach (Jan. 28)

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John Calipari has been delivering a message to his young Kentucky basketball team, a team he believes has more "upside" than any team in the nation right now. 

"I believe in you guys, probably more than some of you believe in yourselves," Calipari said. "We're just a ways away from where we need to be but the upside is there."

The improved play of Darius Miller in recent games is an example of that growth potential. Miller had one of his worst games in the Cats' loss at Georgia three weeks ago, so it will be interesting to see how he and his teammates respond to the rematch with the Bulldogs on Saturday.

In our pregame talk before South Carolina, Calipari lamented that no one had come to him after the Alabama loss and said, "It's OK, coach, we got this." 

But after seeing how well his team played in beating the Gamecocks, Calipari acknowledged that his guys were clearly focused on bouncing back.

"Maybe they're not comfortable enough saying it yet," Calipari said. "Maybe they don't have enough swagger to say, 'Cal, we got this.'  If you say that, you've got to back it up. This team is not ready for that. They don't have that demonstrated performance, that self-awareness of what they are yet. Everybody's responsible for everybody else. You're your brother's keeper on this team."

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For all of the talk about the Dribble Drive offense, Calipari's coaching friends universally note that he doesn't get enough credit for how well his teams defend year in and year out. The current UK team ranks in the nation's top 10 in field-goal percentage defense and in the top five in blocked shots. 

Defense is the aspect of the 2011 Wildcats that most impresses UK's most famous fan, Ashley Judd.

"There are a lot of things I like," Judd said in an interview on the "Leach Report" radio show. "I love DeAndre Liggins' defense. I think that's my favorite thing. I think it's been the most consistent aspect of the team. I love Darius Miller's midrange game and Josh (Harrellson) has been a wonderful story." 

She admitted to a little apprehension about the ability of teams that are dominated by freshmen being able to bring home a title, "but I think if anyone can make that happen, our coach and his staff can."

As a fan, Judd said she really misses the leadership and inside presence that Patrick Patterson gave last year's team. She said getting veterans like Liggins and Miller to be more assertive might be akin to what an actor or actress faces in Hollywood at times.

"I wonder if that kind of analogy might work for the team in saying to the quieter types, 'You don't have to change the personality, but when you step on the court, we need you to play this role,' " she said.

Judd may come to Saturday's game against Georgia to get her first in-person look at this year's squad. She's been too busy up to this point finishing up her first-ever book project. It's called "All That Is Bitter and Sweet" and is a collection of diary notes from eight-plus years of visiting various countries over the globe to study human rights and public health issues. 

Coach Cal read the rough draft and provided a quote for the back cover of the book. She also finished up two new movies in recent month, an independent film called "Flypaper" with Patrick Dempsey, and a family film about "Winter," a dolphin with a prosthetic tail. Morgan Freeman stars with her in "Winter."

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Former UK running back Derrick Locke will showcase his skills in Saturday's Under Armour Senior Bowl game, but the key to catching the attention of the NFL scouts is performance in this week's practice.  

Based on various media reports around the Twitter-verse and blogosphere, Locke has done that.

After the Cats' BBVA Compass Bowl loss to Pittsburgh, Locke had a clear message for the players he's leaving behind at the University of Kentucky.

"The young guys have to take advantage of what we've got here," Locke said. "I haven't seen this many good coaches at one school in a long time and we just need (players) that will be coachable. I wished I had been a lot more coachable and I want them to take advantage of that. If they get on your butt, say 'Yes sir' and 'What did I do wrong.' If they'll do that, they'll be a good team."

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I could care less if Ashley shows up, I want George Clooney! Go Cats!

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