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Harrow highlights UK's baby steps in win over Portland

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Ryan Harrow had eight points, six assists and just one turnover in UK's 74-46 win over Portland on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Ryan Harrow had eight points, six assists and just one turnover in UK's 74-46 win over Portland on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Since his return two weeks ago, Ryan Harrow has been trying to weave himself back into the fabric of his team.

That process, initially, was all about the practice court. Harrow was trying to work his way back into game shape and the flow of his team, but he quickly came to realize it started elsewhere.

Trying to assert himself as Kentucky's point guard, Harrow has begun spending as much time around his teammates as possible, no matter when or where.

"It's more of me doing whatever they want me to do basically," Harrow said. "If I've got to go to breakfast or I've got to go to the gym to shoot with them or go to the mall with them, I'm going to do that."

During the first four games following his return, Harrow showed brief flashes of why his presence could potentially be so important to the Wildcats' long-term prospects. But during a 74-46 win over Portland, Harrow flipped the script, delivering his strongest performance of the season. During Saturday's victory, the flashes were reversions to the Harrow that struggled to find a role. The majority of the game, Harrow effectively ran his team.

"I liked it," John Calipari said. "He had two lapses of his old self. I absolutely jerked him out of the game because he's not playing that way. The other parts of the game I thought he did fine."

Harrow finished with his most productive statistical line of the season by far, posting eight points, six assists and four rebounds with just one turnover. For the first time this season, Harrow scored more than two points. He made just three of his eight field-goal attempts, but had a 37-second stretch late in the second half during which he hit a short floater and a 3-pointer - his first of the season - back to back.

"I'll be more confident when I'm shooting now just to see that go in," Harrow said. "I'll still be in the gym shooting just to work on it."

Calipari, however, is more concerned about the way Harrow runs the team than anything else. With the sophomore playing the point the way he did on Saturday, it opens up the floor for everyone, Archie Goodwin in particular.

"It allows Archie to play off the ball and be more aggressive at the two or the three instead of having to find everybody at the point guard position," Julius Mays said. "And Ryan is a true point guard so it's just a whole different look because he's obviously looking to get other people involved."

With Harrow there to worry about bringing the ball up, Goodwin is free to streak down the floor for fast-break opportunities, a fact he capitalized on during a one-minute, 34-second stretch sure to be replayed a few times. Three times Goodwin threw down ferocious dunks, one of which resulted in an and-one that left the crowd buzzing and his teammates too.

"It got me hyped," Harrow said. "I screamed for him. They were nice."

Harrow added a steal on defense, which is the end of the floor on which those "lapses" happened. UK's defense begins with the point guard, which magnifies any mistakes Harrow makes.

"That's what he's looking for because they know I can play defense too," Harrow said. "Coach Cal always says that's the hard thing to do so everybody tries to go around doing the hard thing. This is kind of new for me, playing defense hard all the time, so I'm just trying to focus on that. If I do have a lapse, he's going to take me out and make me realize I had that lapse."

The sophomore point guard isn't the only one whose lapses Calipari is attempting to address. As a team, the Cats were closer to the complete game Coach Cal is trying to work toward by instituting early-morning workouts before the holidays, but not all the way there.

"We got better," Calipari said. "But we're still a ways away, folks. We're still doing the same things only a little bit better than we were doing them."

The good news on that front is the Cats have ample opportunity to make more incremental gains in the coming weeks. UK will practice twice on Sunday before an off-day on Monday and potentially Tuesday for exams. Beginning next Friday, Calipari will be going to three practices a day.

"We got one week with finals, but that means we'll have time, then we have no class for two straight weeks," Calipari said. "I cannot wait. I won't be leaving campus for anything.  I'll be staying right here with these guys every day going."

During that time, Calipari will be putting a simple choice to his team.

"I'm looking at everybody in the country saying we're probably 50 to 100 right now, but we could be top 10, top eight," Calipari said. "Those eight are the only ones that truly have a chance to win the whole thing. Do you want to be those or not?"

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