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Ready or not, Cats to face Morehead State pressure

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Through three games of the 2012-13 season, Archie Goodwin and the Wildcats have committed just 11.7 turnovers per game. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Through three games of the 2012-13 season, Archie Goodwin and the Wildcats have committed just 11.7 turnovers per game. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari has crafted Kentucky's non-conference schedule with an eye on preparing his young team for almost every conceivable style of play.

Through three games, the Wildcats have faced Maryland's bruising frontcourt. They've taken on a perimeter-oriented Duke team. They've seen a Lafayette team that tried multiple zone defenses.

In the season opener, the Terrapins threw some full-court pressure at the Cats, but that was nothing more than a teaser of what is to come against Morehead State. There is no mystery about what the visiting Eagles are going to try to do and Coach Cal has done his best to get his team ready for it.

"Ever since the Maryland game we've been working on press attack, but each day we work on it a lot more, a lot more," UK guard Julius Mays said. "And then leading up to this game, we know they like to press and get after it. That's their style of play so we spent a lot of time on it the last few days."

So, how does Calipari feel about his team's ability to cope with the press barely 24 hours before the matchup?

"We're not prepared," Calipari said. "We don't scramble and if the game is allowed to be physical they'll turn us over a bunch. But it's what we need."

The way the Eagles (3-1) have been getting after it defensively, they'll be happy to hear of UK's in-progress press attack when the Wildcats (2-1) hosts them on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena. Morehead State is forcing an average of 22.0 turnovers per game, a number that has climbed after each of the Eagles' four outing this season.

"We need to be pressed and played physical and let's see what we're about, if we'll be strong with the ball, if we're going to come to jump stops, if we'll come back and meet passes, if we'll make the extra pass," Calipari said. "We'll find out. This is all learning."

In their first season with new head coach Sean Woods, the Eagles are doing plenty of learning too.

Under the former Kentucky Wildcat's guidance, Mississippi Valley State forced turnovers on at least one of every five defensive possessions. Woods built the Delta Devils from a seven-win Southwestern Conference also-ran in 2008-09 to a 21-win NCAA Tournament team in 2011-12.

His turnaround job at MVSU helped earn him the chance to replace Donnie Tyndall at Morehead State this offseason. With more resources at his disposal and a richer hoops history to sell, Woods hasn't changed his philosophy.

Taking over a team accustomed to a deliberate style of play, Woods has ratcheted up both the pressure and the tempo. Not only is Morehead 12th nationally in defensive turnover percentage according to kenpom.com, the Eagles are racing up and down the floor to the tune of 74.8 possessions per game. That total is up more than 13 possessions from Morehead's average last season and would have ranked tied for second nationally in 2011-12.

"We could have 30 turnovers and they beat our brains in," Calipari said. "It could happen. We're a young team. We don't even know how we're going to respond to stuff."

Even with all the unknowns surrounding the matchup and of the Unforgettable's return to Rupp, another topic is dominating the conversation on the eve of UK-Morehead.

In a media teleconference on Monday, Woods made the statement that he did not like the "vibe" of the UK players he interacted with earlier this month at the "Rebounding from Sandy" telethon. Later in the day, he sent tweets clarifying his comments, saying they reflected his opinion of modern-day young people in general, not these Wildcats specifically.

Nonetheless, Coach Cal and his players faced questions on the subject. Kyle Wiltjer said he had not heard the comments, while Mays respectfully disagreed with Woods.

"My thought is they've been really humble," Mays said of his younger teammates. "They've worked for everything they got. They worked to get here and I feel like they still have chips on their shoulder to show people in the world that they can play. I don't think there's any cockiness or sense of entitlement."

Calipari feels the same way.

"I love what our kids are about and what they've done academically, what they do in the community," Calipari said. "Being here is a big deal and it's hard to deal with all the stuff that goes around. But these guys seem to do it pretty well."

Both Coach Cal and his players are ready to shift the focus back to basketball, because there's a lot of work to be done.

Perhaps no one has more work ahead of him than Ryan Harrow, who has missed each of UK's last three games due to illness. For the first time since Nov. 8, Harrow was on the floor with his team as the Cats practiced at the Joe Craft Center on Monday, though he was only working out on the side. Calipari expected Harrow to practice with the team on Tuesday, but plans for his return are up in the air.

"He's obviously the low man on the totem pole," Calipari said. "You gotta start from behind. And that isn't all bad for him either because he's going to have to battle for time. He's behind everybody which means you gotta earn it in practice."

According to Calipari, Harrow lost seven pounds during the time he missed from his already narrow frame. Fans are more likely to notice his freshly shorn hair.

"I think he's lost seven pounds because he cut the flat top," Wiltjer said.

Jokes aside, the Cats are anxious to get their point guard back on the floor, whenever that ends up happening.

"He's a very talented player and with him back it just gives us a little bit extra depth," Wiltjer said. "Hopefully he can just continue to get up to speed and get where we need him."

Harrow's ball handling would certainly be useful against Morehead State, but UK plans on getting everything it can out of facing the Eagles with or without him.

"I like my team, but this will be a great test," Calipari said. "They're all teams that are different, and that's what we need."

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