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Notes: Cal says criticism brought Cats together

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Andrew and Aaron Harrison speak to reporters at UK's pre-Sweet 16 press conference on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew and Aaron Harrison speak to reporters at UK's pre-Sweet 16 press conference on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Story by Eric Lindsey and Guy Ramsey

INDIANAPOLIS - Even if his team was billed as the top team in the country to start the year, and even if there were beliefs that his team could go undefeated, don't tell John Calipari that his 10-loss group failed to meet expectations.

"It wasn't disappointing," Coach Cal said.

But he didn't mind people talking about the disappointment when his players were struggling because "that's what they had to hear."

"They had to hear how bad they were as players, how selfish they were," he said. "(People said), 'They're not together. This isn't a team. You can't do this. This is what's wrong.' They had to deal with that."

Calipari seemed to hint that the criticism brought his team together, and after hitting rock bottom against South Carolina, it appears to be true.

"Instead of separating, they stuck together," Calipari said. "They kept believing in one another. They kept believing in the staff and wanted answers, how do we get this right and accepts answers. So I'm proud of them."

Coach Cal said the adversity has made his team stronger and one of the most dangerous teams left in the tournament.

"I told them, 'Of any team that's still standing, there's no one that's gone through what you have to be strong enough and have enough character when adversity hits,' " Calipari said. "Because every one of us still playing, there's going to be adversity hitting these games. It's can you hold on to the rope? Can you continue to move forward even though the fluff looks a little bleak? And I think this team's been through enough that they can do that."

Randle looking forward to playing full game vs. U of L

The way the Kentucky Wildcats played without Julius Randle in the second half of the regular-season meeting with Louisville, Randle's teammates hardly noticed that he only played four minutes.

"I feel like once he went out, everybody else stepped up," Alex Poythress said. "That's just how it is on this team. If one guy goes down, the train keeps moving."

The train should have its locomotive for the full 40 minutes in Friday's Sweet 16 matchup with Louisville.

Since missing most of the second half in the Dec. 28 meeting with cramping in his legs, Randle hasn't had any more issues. Even before the U of L game Randle had problems, leaving the press conference in the Michigan State game with cramps.

"I hope that's behind me," Randle said.

If it is, it's because Randle has made a few lifestyle adjustments. He said he's eating better now, getting more rest and drinking more fluids.

"I haven't cramped up in a while," Randle said. "Knock on wood."

Randle scored 17 first-half points against the Cardinals in the first game before his legs gave out. His absence, coupled with Montrezl Harrell's first-half foul trouble, deprived fans of what should be a fantastic battle of the big men Friday.

"I don't know if it was a mismatch or anything," Randle said of his first-half success. "I was just kind of feeling it."

Randle said he's looking forward to playing a full game against U of L this time around.

"I hope so," Randle said. "God willing."

Harrisons key to limiting U of L transition game


Willie Cauley-Stein admits it: UK's transition defense has been far from perfect.

"That's kind of always been our little kryptonite throughout the season was transition defense," Cauley-Stein said.

Cauley-Stein says UK has improved, though Wichita State made the Cats pay for not getting back on numerous occasions in the Wildcats' memorable 78-76 win. Louisville will look to do the same on Friday night.

The Cardinals are more than capable, and it begins with Russ Smith and Chris Jones. The two small  guards turn defense -- U of L is second in the country in defensive turnover rate -- into offense as quickly as anyone in the country.

That means Andrew and Aaron Harrison will need to be ready for the challenge after they committed seven combined turnovers in their regular-season matchup with Louisville.

From what Smith has seen, he expects they will be.

"With the amount of minutes that they've played at the guard position, and in February they've become sophomores, January they've become sophomores, they're not freshmen anymore," Smith said. "They've improved on their decision-making, getting into the lane."

Last (fresh)men standing

UK's highly touted group of newcomers has been among a handful of freshmen to garner national headlines this season.

They began the season ranked No. 1, but were eventually surpassed by the likes of Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Duke's Jabari Parker, and Syracuse's Tyler Ennis. When the Cats fell out of the polls altogether near the regular season's end, pundits were ready to label the group a flop.

A few weeks later, it's Julius Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, and Dakari Johnson who are still playing.

"Seems like we stuck together during hard times and listening to Coach, I guess, and just brought us here this far and we're going to keep listening to him," Young said.

Of Rivals.com's top five players in the 2013 class, only Randle and Arizona's Aaron Gordon are still playing. Among Rivals.com's top 11, only Gordon and Florida's Chris Walker and Kasey Hill are still alive alongside UK's five freshman starters.

It's also worth noting that the other 15 teams that have advanced to the Sweet 16 start four freshmen combined, according to Cats Illustrated's Brett Dawson.  The four are Gordon, Virginia's London Perrantes, Michigan's Derrick Walton and Iowa State's Monte Morris.

Andrew Harrison's elbow better than it was


Andrew Harrison hardly showed it with his sparkling play against Wichita State, but that right elbow of his, which he injured two days earlier in the win over Kansas State, was barking the next day.

"Very sore," Andrew Harrison said. "I could barely move it."

Don't worry, Kentucky fans, Andrew Harrison will play Friday, and the freshman point guard sounds as if he will be much closer to 100 percent than he was against the Shockers.

"It's better," he said. "It's still a little sore but I'm icing it. It's fine."

Andrew Harrison said he will wear the arm sleeve over his elbow again, partly to protect his elbow and part for superstition.

"(The sleeve) has like a pad on it so if I do hit it again, it won't really affect me," he said.

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

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