No, UK's next three games aren't against the likes of Maryland and Duke. That doesn't mean the Wildcats' priorities will change.
"Every game's going to be tough and we want to look at every game the same way," sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer said. "Regardless of who the opponent it, we want to prepare like we have for every game."
The opponent in this case is Lafayette. UK (1-1) will take on the Leopards (1-1) at 7 p.m. ET on Friday in Rupp Arena. The game will be televised on FS South instead of ESPN, a fact that might make Wiltjer's quote seem like a cliche, but there is truth in his words.
From media day on, John Calipari's stated goals for November and December were to learn about his players and prepare his team for conference play and beyond, not to pick up marquee wins or run the table. Just because the Leopards might have less recognizable names on the fronts and backs of their jerseys doesn't mean the Cats can't accomplish those things in facing them.
"It's what we need right now," Calipari said. "We need a team that plays well together offensively, really plays off the defense not running as many 'plays.' They're doing a few actions to try to get shots off. They shoot the 3."
Lafayette is shooting 41.0 percent from 3-point range through two games and has five players who have already hit at least two treys. Sophomore forward Dan Trist is scoring 23.0 points per game while senior guards Tony Johnson and Seth Hinrichs are averaging 16.5 points apiece.
The focus may be the same no matter the opponent, but each game offers a different set of challenges from which the Cats can learn. The Duke and Maryland games were as much about a young team coming to grips with the big stage than anything else. Jon Hood, who has spent enough time around freshmen to know a thing or two, thinks starting in those kinds of environments is ideal.
"I think that's what you do," he said. "I think that's the best way to do it is come out and play those types of games to start off. That gets you ready for the next few games that you have."
Even with 'winning or learning' talk, losing still stings
Coach Cal has preached for weeks now about emphasizing his team's growth over early-season results. Kentucky fans seem to be following his lead, even expressing a sense of optimism in the wake of a loss to No. 9 Duke on Tuesday.
That perspective has actually created somewhat of a unique problem.
"The worst thing you can do is listen to everybody say, 'Hey, that was OK. We're gonna be great in March,' " Calipari said.
Well before Calipari coined "winning or learning," he talked repeatedly about his teams needing to have a "will to win." If the Cats had simply sloughed off the Duke loss as if it were meaningless, there would have been cause for concern on that front. Fortunately, they did no such thing.
"They were disappointed," Calipari said. "We all were."
With Calipari leading the way, UK seems to have found a balance between the frustration that follows a loss and the awareness that the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
"I think he was proud of us that we came back, but no one enjoys losing," Julius Mays said. "I don't think he appreciated the fact that we lost. But we've seen that we can fight back."
Five fall signees send UK on path to another top class
Minutes before Calipari stepped to the podium for his scheduled press conference, UK's stellar fall signing class was announced.
Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis and James Young all signed National Letters of Intent to become Wildcats in 2013. Most experts believe the group - which includes four five-star players according to Rivals.com and the consensus top point and shooting guards in the class - will give UK its fifth top-ranked recruiting class in as many seasons under Calipari.
When Calipari was asked about it at his press conference, he asked the assembled media to refer to the official press release for his thoughts, almost seeming a little disinterested. Realizing his reaction was being interpreted as such, he quickly clarified.
"We're excited about it, don't get me wrong," Calipari said. "I'm jacked up."
From his comments in the aforementioned release, that much is clear. Here is what he had to say about the five signees.
"Aaron is more of a scoring guard who can make shots and make plays at the rim. He can also play some point in a pinch. Like his brother, Andrew, he has the ability to physically dominate the opponent."
"Andrew comes in ready to play physically at the point-guard position. He's a driver, slasher and playmaker with great size. He and his brother Aaron have the ability to be great on-ball defenders."
"Marcus Lee is a long, agile, quick-bounce, quick-twitch, 6-9 forward. He gets to the basket, he's a terrific shot-blocker and he can rebound above the rim. Marcus has unlimited upside because he's going to get stronger and he's going to improve his skill around the basket. His speed, quickness, jumping ability and length set him apart."
"Derek is a very skilled, 6-9 big man who is learning to play through bumps, which is going to elevate his game. He's a long-armed basketball player who can get his hands on balls and really pass. Like Marcus, he has a tremendous upside because he's going to get stronger and be able to play more physical and really use his size and his shot-making ability to spread the court for us."
"James is a long, athletic and skilled wing. He's a lefty who can shoot it and get in transition. You can throw it ahead to him and he can make basketball plays. He rebounds the ball for his position as well anyone in the class."
Later in his press conference, Calipari said he believed he would sign "one or two" more players in the spring.
Harrow 'doing better,' still unlikely to play Friday
Ryan Harrow was forced to miss the Duke game due to illness and has not since returned to practice. However, Calipari reported on Thursday afternoon that the sophomore point guard's health had improved.
Harrow worked out with strength and conditioning coach Mike Malone on Wednesday but will not return to game action until he is able to go full speed in practice.
In Harrow's absence, UK went with a shortened rotation with Archie Goodwin, Mays and Jarrod Polson splitting time at point guard. All five Kentucky starters played 32 minutes or more with Noel, Poythress, Goodwin and Mays all playing at least 37.
"I just want him back," Calipari said of Harrow. "The team, we were a little bit short last week. We know it. But (at the same time), you got to look at the kid's health first and get yourself right and let's go."
Candidates for more playing time against Lafayette are Jon Hood and Twany Beckham, while Willie Cauley-Stein should see significantly more minutes than the six he got against Duke.