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From the Pressbox: Cats move to no. 1

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That was the first post on the Facebook fan page for my radio show about how fans felt about Kentucky moving into the number one spot in the polls. Believe it or not, "love it" was not the answer that got the most votes in our unscientific poll--it was "like it but uneasy."

That uneasiness is understandable, given how difficult it is to stay in the number one slot for a long stretch of time, but with the size of the target on the backs of Kentucky players game in and game out, can it really be that much bigger when you're at the top?

"I think the younger players don't feel the pressure as much," observed veteran sportscaster Tom Hammond on "The Leach Report" radio show on Monday. Hammond was working in Lexington television in 1978 when Kentucky was ranked number one for most of the season on the way to winning the program's first national title in 20 years.

"There were so many expectations on Kentucky to win it. When you're a freshman, you don't know what you don't know and I think that helps relieve the pressure somewhat. You don't feel the pressure of expectations the way that '78 team did," Hammond said.

One major positive factor going in Kentucky's favor is the talent on this roster.

"This is a seriously talented team and the beauty of it is that they don't rely on just one player," noted Hammond. "When you have such balance, it's tough to stop. The only thing I would think is if the minutes start to tell--freshmen sometimes hit a wall--but I really don't think it will. The most talented teams don't always win but they're fun to watch and that's some serious talent out there."

Kentucky has a chance to finish with six players averaging in double figures for the first time. The Courier-Journal's UK beat writer, Kyle Tucker, posted some interesting numbers this week on his blog about how the Cats' scoring averages would look if these players were attempting the number of shots the nation's top scorers are taking--about 15 per game. He notes that Lamb is attempting a team-high of only nine shots per game on average and that is significantly fewer than the 13.5 shots per game averaged by last year's leading scorer, Brandon Knight.

Lamb is coming off the bench for now, a role embraced earlier by senior Darius Miller. ESPN's Jay Bilas says accepting roles to make the team better than its individual parts is what gets remembered most.

"Everybody has to accept a roll even the star. You can accept a roll as a star and may think everyone wants that but not everybody does. Not everybody wants to be the guy that has to be consistent and do things every single night," Bilas said in an interview earlier this season. "Sometimes as a sixth man you could be more famous as being the sixth man than being the fifth starter.

"The key for every player is to understand that you are judged by winning and actually for a lot of years--you don't hear this any more because its getting more remote in time and now these kids are so young-- but there was a time where coaches would take the stat sheet, the end of the year cumulative stat sheet to the 1996 Kentucky national championship sheet and use it with their teams and say okay, 'Kentucky was the best at that time and maybe be the best team since then' and people would ask 'how many minutes did Ron Mercer average or how many points (did someone else average)' and the truth is no one could tell you," Bilas said.

"I, for one, can't tell you how many points Antoine Walker scored or how many points Tony Delk scored or things like that. You just knew they were an integral part of a championship team that could steam roll you. It was used to make a point that no one is going to remember all the little things that players moan and complain about. When you are in there play your tail off and do what you are supposed to do, we will all be remembered as winners and hopefully that is the attitude that a lot of teams are taking in because ultimately I am not going to remember that much longer how many points a guy scored," he continued, "but I am going to remember that those guys all played their tails off, played as a team and won. I will remember names. I won't remember what they did but I will remember that they were a part of that."

Here's the best example of that irony. Jodie Meeks had much the same skill set as a player like Lamb--some might even argue a better one--and he was a mid-second round pick after Kentucky's subpar 2009 season. But it's not to imagine Lamb playing himself into the first round if the Cats win a national title. For guys like Lamb and Terrence Jones, the message to grasp is that this is a team with so much talent that individual glory is going to be hard to come by but team glory can lift the NBA draft stock of anybody playing a key role in that success.

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