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Notes: Shock the world? Cal's just trying to win a game

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UK at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Thursday afternoon. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Thursday afternoon. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Story by Eric Lindsey and Guy Ramsey

ST. LOUIS -- For all the naysayers and critics who say Kentucky can't turn its season around and make a run in the NCAA Tournament, Willie Cauley-Stein wants to thank you. You serve as motivation.

"Lot of the talk is we're too young and we can't do it," Cauley-Stein said. "Anytime someone says you can't do something it gives you extra motivation to go out and do it."

In that regard, the Wildcats' us-against-the-world mentality could have traction when eighth-seeded Kentucky (24-10) meets the ninth-seeded Kansas State Wildcats (20-12) on Friday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament for both teams.

But when Cauley-Stein told reporters on Thursday that his expectation for the postseason is to "shock the world," well, that raised a few eyebrows. After all, this is the same team that was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and boasts seven McDonald's All-Americans.

"There's a lot of people that don't think that we can make a run at it," Cauley-Stein said. "And, you know, a lot of people don't want to see us make a run at it. ... Despite how the season went, now the real season begins tomorrow for us. And, you know, I think (John Calipari's) whole thing is just trying to shock the world and do what people say we can't do."

Coach Cal said it's possible to "shock the world" when everybody says "you have no chance," but that's not the mentality he wants his team playing with as it begins its NCAA Tournament run. Quite the contrary.

"I'm trying to get them to focus," Calipari said. "When they make that kind of statement, they are not totally listening to me now. You must stay in the moment and play good basketball games. It's what we do. It's what we've done. It's how we're playing."

It goes back to the oldest coaching cliché in the book: Take it one game at a time. Instead of focusing on the big picture, Calipari wants his players focusing on the first step. Without the first step, they can't make it to the second step.

"We are worried about one game," Coach Cal said. "Let's shock the world tomorrow - one game. And then we'll go from there."

Kentucky, by definition, is the favorite on Friday according to seeding, but while some people have pegged UK as a potential threat to top-seeded Wichita State in the next round, Calipari has refused to look ahead this week or even acknowledge playing the Shockers.

Calipari knows his team has its hands full Friday night in St. Louis against what he called "an outstanding opponent."

"Obviously my 18-year-olds are not listening to me if that (shock-the-world comment) is the statement they make, but that's OK," Coach Cal said. "Now I will go back and kill them and it will give me another to opportunity to say something to them."

Randle shakes off forgettable SEC title game with good week of practice


After he made just nine shots in 29 attempts in the Southeastern Conference Tournament -- with misses in six of seven tries in a championship-game defeat -- Julius Randle surely spent a lot of time thinking this week.

Fielding questions from reporters on Thursday, Randle didn't let on.

Asked how much time he spent in practice working on the short shots he so often missed over the weekend, Randle smiled wryly.

"I haven't worked on it at all," Randle said, drawing laughs.

Randle wasn't particularly interested in talking about his close-range struggles or how he's addressed them, but the player who most often guards him in practice was a little more willing.

"Oh, he's picked it up in practice," Alex Poythress said. "He had a rough game. Every once in a while you can't play perfect, but he's really been picking it up in practice, doing the things he normally does."

Mix the Randle who posted 20 double-doubles and won SEC Freshman of the Year honors with the Kentucky team that came within one basket of taking down No. 1 Florida on Sunday and the Wildcats could make some serious March noise.

Legacy TBD

With 10 losses, a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a difficult path to the Final Four, it's safe to say the 2014 recruiting class didn't live up to the hype as the greatest recruiting class of all-time, right?

Not so fast.

The Fab Five, regarded as the greatest collection of freshman talent ever, is remembered as the best, not because of how it started but because of how it finished.

The 1991-92 Wolverines were at one point 17-8 before winning three straight games to end the regular season and eight in a row to reach the national championship games. Kentucky, in that regard, could mirror that Michigan team in that its playing its best basketball late in the year.

Jon Hood, who said every team he's been on at UK has had that moment where it's clicked, said this group had its last week when the Cats nearly won the SEC Tournament.

"There's always that click but you always have to keep climbing," Hood said.

Iowa State's Iwundu 'like family' to Harrison twins

Andrew and Aaron Harrison didn't wait long after the Selection Show to get in touch with Wesley Iwundu.

The Harrisons played AAU with Iwundu on a team coached by their father and share a bond with him that goes well beyond basketball.

"I texted him I think the day we found out we play them and we were just laughing and joking a little bit," Andrew Harrison said.

"It was really just a lot of goofy stuff, a lot of funny stuff," Aaron Harrison said. "Wesley is really funny."

The Harrisons and Iwundu may not have engaged in serious trash talk via text, but make no mistake: They'll all be ready to play on Friday night.

"We are both competitors and going to try to play as hard as we can," Aaron Harrison said. "At the end of the day he is like family to me. I mean, we're definitely going out to win the game. There's nothing about that. I mean, we will still be friends after the game."

Free to fly

After one of their best collective stretches of the season at last weekend's tournament, Aaron Harrison said he and his twin brother, Andrew, feel like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.

"We just don't have to worry about what other people say," Aaron Harrison said. "We just have to make sure we stay within our team and don't try to listen and read every bad thing that everyone says about us."

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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