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UK looking to take next step toward 'quantum leap' against Georgia

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Andrew Harrison is averaging 11.8 points and 3.8 assists in SEC play. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison is averaging 11.8 points and 3.8 assists in SEC play. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Imagine if UK ever played a game in which each one of its talented players played to his vast potential.

What if the Julius Randle who dominated Michigan State in the second half and the Willie Cauley-Stein who blocked nine shots against Boise State manned the Wildcat frontcourt?

What if the Andrew Harrison who scored 26 against Tennessee and the Aaron Harrison who poured in 28 vs. Robert Morris were on the floor together?

What if John Calipari could sub the Alex Poythress who went on a one-man 7-0 on Tuesday against Texas A&M for the the James Young who had 26 points against Mississippi State?

The prospect is certainly a tantalizing one, but it's not realistic.

"Everybody's not going to have a good game every game and people have to understand that," Andrew Harrison said. "But at the same time, it's not always about scoring points and stuff like that. It's about playing hard. If everyone plays hard, we're really tough to beat."

In both games and practice, it's all about effort. The Cats can't let that effort be affected by anything. Not the last play, the last game and especially not the "clutter" and outside voices to which Coach Cal has so often referred of late.

"Whether it's my point guard, whether it's James, this stuff is all game-to-game with these guys," Calipari said. "And if they get caught up in one game, you take your eye off the ball, which is the process of getting better as an individual and -- more importantly right now for us -- as a team."

No. 14 Kentucky (14-4, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) began the season atop the polls. Billed as one of the most talent-rich teams in recent memory, dominance wasn't talked about as a possibility so much as a certainty.

Instead, the Cats have had their moments and even a signature win over Louisville, but are only now beginning to find a rhythm.

"Other teams are well ahead of us right now," Calipari said, "either because they've been veteran teams and they're way ahead of us as a team, or they just needed each other more than we thought we needed each other. So we haven't made the strides as a team that we need. But we have made strides."

To continue to make those strides, UK will need Cauley-Stein to round back into form.

The sophomore had a remarkable December, blocking shots on pace with Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel. But over his last three games, his production and minutes have plummeted. He's averaging just one point, 3.3 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 15.3 minutes during that stretch and backup Dakari Johnson has filled the void with his best stretch of play this season.

"Again, he's playing behind Willie, and Willie's really playing well," Calipari said. "You're not gonna get many minutes then. But Willie didn't play well, so now what are you gonna do with your minutes? Well, he went in and said, 'You should be playing me instead of Willie.' "

If Thursday's practice is any indication, Cauley-Stein won't be able to be kept off the floor. After working out individually late on Wednesday, Cauley-Stein looked like a different player the next day.

"It was good to see him back to instead of avoiding everything, creating and doing the stuff that we've all seen him do," Calipari said. "You go down that road and you start thinking the wrong way -- this game is more mental than anything else. And for him, he got away from what he was doing to make himself and set himself apart."

After playing with him on Thursday, Andrew Harrison stated in no uncertain terms his belief that Cauley-Stein will be back in a big way when UK takes on Georgia (10-7, 4-1 SEC) on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network).  If he is, Harrison knows what that can mean.

"He's probably the best center in the country and we need him to be as good as we can be," Harrison said.

UK will certainly need all hands on deck against the visiting Bulldogs. Georgia has won four of five to open SEC play, taking down Missouri on the road, Arkansas at home and only losing at Florida.

"They're playing exactly how they have to play to win," Calipari said. "Their guards are scoring. They're shooting the 3 when they need it. They're plus-10 rebounds in our league right now."

Guards Charles Mann (13.1 points per game) and Kenny Gaines (12.0) lead a balanced scoring attack, but Georgia remains simply "the next challenge up" in Calipari's eyes, a measuring stick for UK's progress. He knows exactly the things he'll be looking for.

"When we really, truly start playing for each other," Calipari said. "Where we have no ball-stoppers on offense. That ball moves or you make a play. On defense, that we play an entire possession and we show energy for our team, not just when we're guarding the ball. When we're not guarding the ball. That we block out on an errant shot with 0.2 seconds to go, because we're gonna finish the possession."

It's unlikely all those things will happen together on Saturday, but the Cats are working to get there eventually.

"When we get there, you'll see this team take a quantum leap," Calipari said.

Polson to have high-school jersey retired Friday

UK will take a break from its Georgia preparations to celebrate with Jarrod Polson as he has his jersey retired at West Jessamine High School on Friday night.

"I told them yesterday we were all going to go and be there for him, and they went crazy for him," Calipari said. "And what a great gesture for their high school to do."

Polson averaged 18.2 points, 6.4 assists and 4.9 rebounds as a senior, leading his team to a Sweet Sixteen berth and finishing his career as the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,884 points.

Even so, it's an honor Polson didn't see coming.

"I was pretty shocked," Polson said. "I didn't really know they do it actually while you're in college or anything like that so when they told me I was pretty excited and my family was pretty happy about it so I think it'll be a good night."

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