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Work pays dividends as Cats take down Marshall

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Ryan Harrow scored a career-high 23 points in UK's 82-54 win over Marshall on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Ryan Harrow scored a career-high 23 points in UK's 82-54 win over Marshall on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
John Calipari isn't normally one to call any regular-season game a big one. In fact, Coach Cal is already downplaying Kentucky's Dec. 29 matchup with Louisville.

But this week, he went against his nature. It was only a non-conference game in late December, but Calipari went out of his way to talk about the importance of UK's game against Marshall.

It wasn't because of the potential implications or even the final result though. After the Wildcats' second week of "Camp Cal," he knew they would have to show more improvement than they did against Lipscomb seven days prior or struggles would await them.

Coach Cal got what he wanted.

"Oh, we got better," Calipari said. "Whew."

UK (8-3) defeated the Thundering Herd (7-6), 82-54. After leading by nine at halftime, the Cats allowed Marshall to make a run and cut the deficit to 33-31 with 19:01 left. From there, UK outscored the visitors 49-23 in front of a Rupp Arena crowd of 24,271, the largest of the season, as Ryan Harrow led all scorers with 23 points and Nerlens Noel posted his first double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

"The thing I liked about Marshall, very physical, bump and grind team that we out rebounded, and they were big," Calipari said. "That's what we needed. We needed this game like this. We needed a team that would play that way."

There were moments when players reverted, but in terms of effort, communication and emotion, Coach Cal was delighted by what he saw.

"We're a long way from home," Calipari said. "But it shows that this team, and I keep saying, this team has more upside than any team in the country."

A major reason why Calipari believes that is the play of Harrow. The sophomore point guard seems to improve on a game-by-game basis, culminating in a career-high scoring effort against Marshall. He added four assists, four rebounds and three steals while committing just two turnovers.

"When he's playing the right way with aggressiveness, talking to his teammates, that look in his eye, he's as good as anybody in the country right now," Calipari said.

That's quite a change from less than a month ago when Harrow was away from the team due to illness. Now that he's back, he is a different player from the one he was before, at least most of the time. You see, Coach Cal has figured out there is a good version of Harrow and a not-so-good one.

"That other guy - you ready - the cool guy, he's not very good," Calipari said. "The guy that runs in and gets bumped and falls on the floor, throws the ball, that guy is not very good. That other guy we saw? Spurts today, just play that way. Every minute you're on the court, play that way."

That process of shaking off his tendency to try to look cool hasn't been easy. Old habits die hard and all of that.

"That's just always the way I played in high school," Harrow said. "I'd be real laidback but I'd still make my moves and score. But it's a different game in college basketball."

It's a game that requires plenty of talking on Harrow's part, something that his cool side wouldn't let him do. After the Lipscomb game, Harrow revealed that he often yelled to his teammates things with little to do with the game itself just to follow Calipari's directive to talk constantly.

So, did he take his talking to the next level by adding some meaning this time out? Not so much.

"It was nonsense today," Harrow said. "I just kept saying, 'Let's go,' and I told the guys before the game started that when I said, 'Let's go,' I meant, 'Let's go home.' That was just to make sure that we played good so that we were able to go home. I didn't want to have to stay here over Christmas break."

Harrow's not going to have to stay in Lexington over the holiday, as he rushed to catch a flight home to Raleigh, N.C., as soon as he finished his media responsibilities, like many of his teammates. He suggested - in a mostly joking manner - that the team's improvement had something to do with a desire to get home.

"It could have been that we were all trying to get home, to make sure that we get home," Harrow said.

The plan all along has been for the Cats to take a three-day break for Christmas, so was there actually a possibility Calipari would change his mind after a poor performance?

"I don't know," Harrow said with a smile. "You never know with him."

On second thought, Harrow knows the Cats' progress was rooted in much more than hoping to spend time their families and eat a home-cooked meal.

"Or we just really worked hard in practice," Harrow said. "We were just really focused and it was basketball, basketball, basketball so it had to have shown."

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