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Notes: UK gets back to running game against Western Kentucky

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Marquis Teague had 12 points and four assists in UK's 81-66 win over Western Kentucky. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Marquis Teague had 12 points and four assists in UK's 81-66 win over Western Kentucky. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.

LOUISVILLE -- John Calipari made sure his team heard about it.

Following Kentucky's semifinal win over Florida in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Patric Young said that his Gators had intentionally picked up the pace against the Wildcats because they saw an opportunity.

"It started wearing the guys out a lot because we don't think they're in the best of shape," Young said. "It showed, because we were able to stay in the game."

Not in the best of shape?

The Cats aren't so sure about that.

"We're one of the most in shape teams in the country," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said.

Planting the notion that they're out of shape in his players' heads, Calipari aimed to resurrect the dynamic transition game that had disappeared from the Wildcats' repertoire in recent weeks, particularly during the conference tournament.

In Kentucky's NCAA Tournament debut on Thursday against Western Kentucky, the running, slashing, high-flying Wildcats thrilled a distinctly blue-tinted crowd in the KFC Yum! Center in an 81-66 win.

"We just wanted to show everybody in the country that we're in shape and we can keep running with them," sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. "We can keep running even when they stop. We did a lot of that today and got a lot of fast-break points."

The box score shows only eight fast-break points, but any of the 22,131 fans in attendance or those watching on television know the in-game action told a different story. Point guard Marquis Teague was markedly more proactive in attacking in the open floor, and it led, in large part, to the eight dunks UK threw down.

"It helped a lot, gave us an aggressive mentality back," Teague said. "Coach Cal told us he wants us to attack the rim and we got a lot of slashers and guys that can get to the rim and finish, so that's what he wants us to do."

Teague came to Kentucky with a reputation for dynamic full-court play, but had to learn to rein himself in as the year wore on. As a result, UK turned to a much more deliberate style of play during SEC play and the Cats dominated with it.

However, the Cats overdid it a little bit toward the end of the year. Teague often found himself backing it out with transition opportunities in front of him, but the Cats spent the last few days trying to strike a balance between pushing it and making wise decisions.

"A couple practices that we had before the tournament, we kind of worked on it, getting up and down like we used to," senior guard Darius Miller said. "I feel like we did a better job of that early in the season. We did a good job of it tonight. We got a couple easy buckets which really helped us."

The impact of UK's open-floor play was clear. The Wildcats flew up and down the floor over the final minutes of the first half and the opening of the second, turning a narrow 18-17 cushion into a lead the ballooned to as large as 32 points.

By no means is Kentucky a finished product in knowing when to run and when not to, but the Cats are getting there.

"We're starting to figure it out," Teague said. "We're getting better with each game. We're just picking and choosing when to go. If the lane is there, we take it. If everybody's back, we pull the ball back and set up a play."

Cats not happy with lackluster finish

With few exceptions, UK has excelled in closing its opponents out in close games, but blowouts have been another story. The Wildcats have held big leads late only for opponents to make a late - if inconsequential - charge.

Thursday's win against Western Kentucky was perhaps the best example of that.

The Hilltoppers, after trailing 74-42 with 8:42 remaining, outscored a seemingly bored Kentucky team 24-7 down the stretch to make the final score much closer than the game actually played.

"We kind of slowed down and let off the gas," Teague said. "It's hard to keep playing when we're up so many points, but we can't do that."

There was no harm done against Western, but only because UK had built too large of a lead. The Wildcats are well aware a repeat performance in later rounds could spell the end of their March.

"We got to do a way better job of closing out games," Miller said. "Anybody can be beat in this tournament. You've seen, there's been a lot of comebacks already. We got to do a better job of closing out the team and playing the whole 40 minutes."

After the game, Calipari wasn't concerned about the final score being closer than it likely should have been, but he did make sure to deliver the message that they way they played was unacceptable.

"He just told us he wasn't worried about us winning by 30 or anything like that," Teague said. "He just wanted us to finish the game so he was kind of a little upset that we didn't do that the way we should have."

Calipari has delivered that same message on multiple occasions this season, but the players can't put a finger on why they took their feet off the pedal again down the stretch. All the Wildcats are looking for is another chance to close out a game in a similar spot.

"Hopefully we keep being in that situation where we have a chance to close out the game," Miller said.

Miller testing Davis' outer limits

Miller doesn't do it on purpose, at least not consciously.

Of all players who throw alley-oops to Anthony Davis, the senior guard seems to most often throw passes that reveal exactly how much space Davis covers around the basket.

Davis and Miller outdid themselves early in the second half.

With a little over five minutes gone after halftime, Miller drove to the middle of the Hilltopper defense and saw Davis with a sliver of space along the baseline. He directed a pass toward UK's "Spider-man," who somehow rose to snag the pass with arms fully out-stretched, dunking the ball in one motion.

"I just throw it up there now," Miller said. "It gets to a point where I see his man, I'm throwing it to the rim."

On the play, Davis was whistled for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, the second time this season such a violation has been called on him. He thought he was following his coach's direction in protecting himself, but the officials didn't see it that way.

"The way I caught it, they said I pulled myself up, but I didn't think so," Davis said. "That's the second time they've called it on me. I thought I was going to fall, but the refs seem to think otherwise."

After the game, Davis wasn't too bent out of the shape over the call.

"It's just another call," Davis said. "I'm not really mad over it. As long as we won, it's fine with me."

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