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Harrow relishes role as Cats rout Mississippi State

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Ryan Harrow had 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists in UK's 85-55 win over Mississippi State on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Ryan Harrow had 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists in UK's 85-55 win over Mississippi State on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Eleven days ago, the place you were likeliest to find Ryan Harrow was the bench. As Kentucky suffered its worst loss of the John Calipari era at Tennessee, Harrow played just 18 minutes.

Sitting on the sideline, Harrow did little to try to hide his displeasure. With his team down big and Harrow not starting for the first time in more than two months, he wasn't happy.

Harrow didn't direct his discontent toward his coach or his teammates. He didn't try to assign blame as he went scoreless for the second straight game.

"I was more so disappointed in myself to how I was playing and to put myself in that position to be sitting on the bench," Harrow said.

Rather than going into a shell and resigning himself to his fate, Harrow decided to do something about it. Inspired by a team meeting during which his fellow Wildcats reminded him how much they needed him, Harrow called for a sitdown with Coach Cal and asked for his starting point-guard spot back. He granted the request, with one condition.

"When I went to go talk to Coach when we had that meeting, he just told me he needed me to be aggressive and when I play well it helps the team a lot," Harrow said.

Calipari had been delivering the message all season, but it was then that it sunk in once and for all: Paradoxical as it may sound, Harrow was in fact being selfish when he too often deferred.

"Coach has said it the whole year," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "When Ryan plays aggressive and (not) passive, that brings our whole team up. When he's playing like that, it's hard to beat us. He's got everybody else going. His defense, it just lifts everybody else up. We run more. When he's taking control, it's just a good thing."

Perhaps more than at any point this season, Harrow was in control on Wednesday against Mississippi State. And as the 85-55 final score showed, it was certainly a good thing for the Cats.

"The biggest thing it does, it's like what Willie said: I'm going to do my job; you all got to do your job," Calipari said. "So now Ryan's doing his job, it makes it easier on everybody on the team."

Harrow did his job to the tune of 19 points and four assists. He connected on six of his nine field-goal attempts, hit three 3-pointers and didn't commit a single turnover. He deftly ran a UK offense its most points in a non-overtime game since Jan. 29, using his driving ability and attacking when it was appropriate.

In the three games since his two scoreless outings at Florida and Tennessee, Harrow has scored in double figures each time. He's averaging 15.7 points during that stretch and has 14 total assists against just three turnovers. And in none of those games has Harrow played fewer than 30 minutes.

"My confidence is really good right now, really high," Harrow said. "I'm just playing a lot better offensively and defensively and I'm starting to do a lot more things on the court."

His slight frame might not suggest that one of those things would not be rebounding, but Harrow is mixing it up on the glass too. After grabbing seven rebounds against Mississippi State, Harrow has 20 over his last three games. Only Cauley-Stein has more over that stretch with 25 to lead the team.

"Coach told us since Nerlens (Noel) is out we just have start rebounding more," Harrow said. "All the guards have to start rebounding more. Especially with teams that shoot a lot of 3s, the ball's gonna fly out farther to where the point guards are at."

Cauley-Stein has a lot on his plate in having to step up in Noel's absence. So too does Alex Poythress in his move to a more post-oriented role as the Cats have reinvented themselves and clawed their way out of the coffin Calipari has taken to saying they were in a week and a half ago. Harrow's work on the boards has gone a long way to lighten the load of his frontcourt teammates and he's happy to do it, especially if it means he gets to be on the floor all the time.

"Oh, I'm real happy," Harrow said. "I didn't like sitting on the bench. I don't like sitting on the bench unless I'm tired. But I'm just trying to do whatever the team needs me to do, whether that's scoring or playing defense or getting rebounds."

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