Andrew Harrison accounted for 13 points in a 21-3 run that keyed UK's comeback win over Cleveland State on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With 7:41 seconds left, Andrew Harrison checked back in.
The freshman had four fouls, but with Kentucky trailing 54-44 John Calipari had no choice but to reinsert him. The Wildcats couldn't afford to have their point guard on the bench even though he had struggled to that point.
Much the same, Harrison knew he couldn't afford not to step up.
"I knew I had no choice," Harrison said.
With UK facing the biggest upset of the young college basketball season, Harrison took the only path available to him. He was Kentucky's anchor during a decisive 21-3 run, leading the way as the Cats completed a comeback from as many as 11 points down to win 68-61.
"He really stood out, he directed us a lot," James Young said. "He told us where to go, what to do. He just really stepped up."
Harrison scored six of his 12 points -- all on driving and-one layups -- and dished three of his five assists during the spurt. He had a direct hand in 13 of the 21 points scored during the run and only exited after he finally picked up his fifth with 27.6 seconds left and the outcome in hand.
"I thought Andrew made the plays," John Calipari said. "It's nice to know we got two or three guys now we can go to if the game is in the balance."
Harrison showed as much emotion following his two and-ones as at any point in his six-game UK career, glimpsing some of the fire Calipari wants out of the latest in his line of highly regarded point guards.
"Just having a competitive spirit and wanting to win and making big plays to win really," Harrison said. "It's not about me or anything. I just wanted to win. Those reactions kind of come out a competitor, any competitor really."
Harrison has surely heard some of the talk about his early-season body language, but he wasn't thinking about any outsiders during the Cats' rally. The only opinions he cares about are those of his teammates and coaches.
"I feel like I was letting my teammates down pretty much by getting those fouls in the first half and not being as aggressive as I should be," Harrison said. "Hopefully it's a turning point. Tomorrow we're just going to go to practice and start getting better."
Like a true point guard, Harrison was quick to deflect praise following the win over Cleveland State.
"All of us stepped up," Harrison said. "James Young played great. Julius (Randle) in the paint, nobody was getting a rebound at that point, nobody but him. It wasn't me at all. It was them. I was just getting them the ball. They were just making me look good."
Young struggled with his shot for most of the night and even contended with a box-and-one defense geared toward stopping him at times, but that didn't slow him. He hit just 3 for 11 from the field and scored nine points, but it was his energy that buoyed the Cats and his example that Calipari used to inspire his teammates.
"James Young just fought like crazy and came up with balls when we were dead," Calipari said. "If they got those balls, we would lose. That's why I looked at the other guys and I say, 'Fight like he's fighting.' "
Young had a career-high five rebounds, while Randle posted his sixth straight double with 15 points and 15 rebounds in spite of facing constant double and triple teams from Viking defenders. Randle had five more turnovers on Monday night, bringing his season total to a team-high 22, but Calipari has trouble picking nits when he looks at his star freshman.
"Pass a little bit, stop turning it over, but keep getting those double-doubles," Calipari said. "They're really nice."
With Kentucky's upcoming schedule, Randle will face some challenges in looking to extend his double-double streak, which now sits just one shy of Jim Andrews' UK record of seven to begin a season. The Cats have just one day to prepare for matchup with Eastern Michigan at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday to conclude the Keightley Classic.
The Eagles are unbeaten at 5-0, so Calipari sees them as a natural segue into a brutal December schedule that features six opponents ranked 61st or better according to kenpom.com in six games.
"The good news is other than Michigan State, we kind of built them up," Calipari said. "Now Eastern Michigan is the next step. When we go farther, every other team takes us to another level."
Some pundits will sound alarms about Kentucky after a narrow home escape against a heavy underdog, but the Cats believe this is an experience that will benefit them down the road.
"It could have been easy for us to sit back and be like, 'Man, we're not coming back from this,' " Randle said. "But we kept fighting, fighting and we learned that even when we're down we can come together and still win games."
Dominique Hawkins has played 31 minutes in UK's last two games as a defensive specialist. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There will come a time -- the NCAA Tournament, namely -- when winning is John Calipari's sole priority.
It's not March yet.
Looking to drive that message home, Coach Cal asked his freshmen-laden team what having fun on the floor meant.
"They said winning," Calipari said. "I said, 'No, not necessarily.' "
He used that as an opportunity to educate the Wildcats.
"It's coming out and having an unbelievable effort by everyone that's on that floor and who comes in the game and forcing your will on the other team, doing it together and talking and having fun doing it," Calipari said. "That's fun."
With six days between games -- UK's longest such break of the season to this point -- Calipari has gone to work on making his Kentucky team understand that, and it begins on the defensive end.
The Cats are coming off a game in which Texas-Arlington scored better than a point per possession in Kentucky's 105-76 win. UK repeatedly allowed drives to the basket, but not because of a lack of quickness or ability to guard.
It's all about effort.
"We're trying to get them to play through a whole possession, stay in a stance," Calipari said. "Someone said 'Wow, you guys got beat on the dribble.' Yeah, if you're standing straight up and down, it's pretty easy to get beat on the dribble."
Ahead of UK's matchup with Cleveland State at 7 p.m. ET on Monday, Calipari has honed in on defense.
"He really got on us (Thursday), you know, after our off day just to compete and stuff like that and play better defense," Dakari Johnson said. "So we've been doing a lot of defensive drills lately and just competing throughout the whole shot clock and just getting more stops."
In the preseason, practices were all about offense and playing together. Of course, learning the Dribble Drive allows for plenty of opportunities to play defense, but the Cats are focusing on the other end of the floor like never before.
"If you're not doing your best, if you're standing around, if you stop playing - for most of these kids, they were always bigger and stronger and longer and faster, you didn't have to outwork the other guy," Calipari said. "If a team's effort level is far beyond yours, it will smash a talented group."
There's a lesson that front even within UK's team.
Dominique Hawkins came to Kentucky as the least-heralded signee in a class labeled by many as among the best in the history of the game. The Richmond, Ky., native always believed he would carve a role out for himself, but through sheer force of will and a tireless commitment to defense, he's found his way into the rotation even earlier than he expected.
"I knew when I was on this team that I would probably get in games because of my defense," Hawkins said. "I'm trying to learn to become a better defensive player, definitely putting pressure on the ball and trying to be a defensive force for our team."
Hawkins has played a combined 31 minutes in UK's last two games. He has taken just seven combined shots and scored seven points, but has embraced the assignment of hounding the opposing point guard.
"Dominique is probably closest to what we're looking for of anybody on the team (defensively), but it's not where we need to be right now," Calipari said.
Even Hawkins has a ways to go in the communication department.
"I'm kind of a shy person and I don't really talk that much, but he's making me have to talk and yell out stuff because when I'm talking I'm usually quiet, I'm not loud enough," Hawkins said. "So he's working on talking louder with me."
Already, the Cats are seeing progress.
"I think we've gotten better," Johnson said. "I think we're starting to get it now, that we have to just compete the whole time and not stop and we just have to just keep on playing with energy and keep on working hard every possession."
But with seven freshmen and two sophomores playing regular roles, it's going to take time for the message to fully sink in.
"This is all stuff that's new to them," Calipari said.
Jarrod Polson is in his senior season as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Throughout the 2013-14 season, UKathletics.com and CoachCal.com will be here to serve as your primary source for Kentucky basketball coverage. From feature stories to game coverage, video and more, we pride ourselves on being your one-stop shop for all things UK basketball. However, nobody can paint the picture quite like the people who create the artwork. Throughout the 2013-14 year, the players who make the stories will share in writing a season-long blog to share with the Big Blue Nation their experiences, their thoughts and how the year develops in their own eyes. This week, Jarrod Polson writes about the first road trip of the season, enjoying his final year at Kentucky and what his next step could be.
I'm happy to be doing this and get a chance to talk about my last year here at Kentucky. It's been a fun ride so far and I'm really happy to see what this season is going to turn out like. I hope we go out with a bang.
Team-wise, I think we're doing pretty good so far. I think we've been improving every day, and that's the biggest goal here is just not to worry about who we're playing but improving ourselves every day. With the big first test against Michigan State, I think we showed a lot of perseverance. We could have lost by 30 that game with the start we had, but I think that definitely proved how competitive our guys are and how much they want to win no matter what.
Even though we lost that game, I think that may have helped us a lot, kind of like the Indiana game did to us in my sophomore year. It was kind of just a wake-up call to realize that everyone is going to give us their best game every night. We always have to be ready.
I wouldn't say our new guys were nervous, but when Michigan State went on that big 10-0 run at the beginning, you could kind of see them like, oh wow, this is big time and something they had never been a part of before. I think that's definitely going to help them because that's how the tournament games are going to be in the SEC and in the NCAA Tournament. I think just having that in the back of their minds and finally getting through that game and actually coming back at the end and having a chance to win shows them that they're going to have to play hard. Knowing now that we have the fight and will to do it, I think it will prove to be an important game for us.
The Michigan State game was also our first time on the road this year. I've been through it a lot, but it was the freshmen's first time flying on the plane with us and seeing how we do things. We don't really get to do too many extracurricular activities when we're on the road; we pretty much just stay in the hotel and get focused for the game. At the same time, it puts everyone together. I think it's definitely a good bonding experience going on the plane rides together and just being in different cities together and being with each other for a 48-hour period non-stop. I really enjoy the road a lot. I think a lot of the players do just because it kind of lets us get away and we get to play.
For me, the trip to Chicago was cool because it was my first time in the United Center. Seeing Michael Jordan's retired jersey and stuff in the rafters, I think everyone was just kind of like, wow. I know some of them played in the McDonald's All-American Game so they had been in there before, but for me, I didn't even realize it until we went in there. I was just kind of like, oh yeah, this is where Michael Jordan played. This is where the Chicago Bulls made their legacy.
It's kind of crazy how many games we have played already. I feel like we usually don't play half the games that we've already played in November. But we're enjoying it. We enjoy playing. If we could play every day I think we would choose that over practicing. Honestly, sometimes it feels like a game is less tiring than a practice. It's fun for us to get started right off the bat and keep playing game after game after game, plus I think it's good for the freshmen because they're just getting g a ton of experience. I think it's a win-win situation for us.
Off the court, I think we're a really close team. Curfew has kind of helped with that. We're all in by 11 or midnight every night. A lot of us are still awake at that point so we're bringing out the pool table and stuff like that, just hanging out with one another. Actually me, Jon and Dominique just brought out the ping pong table the night after our game. I think I'm the best, but I've only played Jon and Dominique so far and it's really the first time we've played it this year. I'm not much of a pool shark, but Hoody is pretty good at pool. Alex is alright. Actually, not really.
In all seriousness, even though we would prefer not to have curfew, it's actually making us closer. We have to hang out. It's not like we don't want to hang out anyways because we love each other off the court, but we're getting closer because of it and we're having fun.
If we get to go home for Thanksgiving, I'll probably take a couple of the guys home with me since so many of them don't live close to here and won't have anywhere to go. Coach has had us over for dinner at his house in the past, but I think it would be fun to bring some of the guys home, and I know my family would be welcome to that. I haven't been home in a while, so just getting back to see my family and all my relatives would be really exciting for me.
When I think back to stuff like that and how we do things every year, it kind of hits me how fast this is all flying by for me. A lot of people told me that would happen, but I didn't really believe them at the time. I guess in one sense it feels like freshman year was a long time ago, but at the same time I've been in college for four years and it seems like a flash. I can remember back when I was a freshman, I could barely do one drill without messing up. For me personally, my development has gotten a lot better with basketball. Really, just with everything I feel like I've grown up a lot. I've been around the block. I'm really used to it now and it's normal for me. At the same time, I just want to enjoy my senior year.
Jon came up with this idea before our first game of calling our senior year our farewell tour. It pretty much just means no matter what happens this season, we're not going to get discouraged and we're just going to try to enjoy it as much as we can. We can't control playing time or anything like that, so we're just going to take everything in and work as hard as we can like we have for the last three years and try to enjoy everything that comes with this last season because this is it for us.
Jon and I have talked a little bit about possibly going overseas once our careers are over here. We don't really know about how to go about trying to do that, but it would be awesome if we have that opportunity. Obviously it would be totally different. It would be a huge commitment that we would have to make. A lot of people are good enough to go over there but they just choose not to because it's so different. We're going to have to look at that and weigh the pros and cons of each thing. I think as the season goes on, we're probably going to get a better feel for if we can even go over there and where we would go and stuff like that, but we're still in the beginning processes of that.
At the same time, it's not like a do-or-die thing for me. That's not been my main goal in life, to play professional overseas basketball, but I'm just trying to keep my options open. The good thing about me and Jon is that I do think we have a lot of opportunities whether it's going overseas or getting a job over here. We're excited for it just to enter a new chapter in our lives.
As we enter the final few chapters here, I think I'm looking forward to the tournament run the most. That's definitely the most exciting part of the season for the fans and for us. We get to go to class for like two days a week and then the rest of the week we're at whatever site we're at and just practicing. It just seems like everyone is watching college basketball during that time and that's what I think is most exciting. When I was a kid in March, I would just glue my eyes to the television watching every tournament game I could find. Just being a part of it is still a cool experience for me. I can't wait for it again.
Until then, we've got a lot of practice between now and then. I've got to head to one now so I'll catch you all later. Happy Thanksgiving!
James Young scored 26 points on 8-of-14 shooting in UK's 105-76 win on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Before the season, John Calipari said he had as many as eight players capable of scoring 25 points on any given night.
Five games in, the Wildcats are well on their way to proving him right.
"Our whole team can score," James Young said. "If we all have open shots, we just tell them to take it because we can all score or get to the basket. If a guy has a hot hand for the night, we just try to get them the ball as much as we can."
Tuesday night was Young's, as the freshman guard became the third Kentucky player to reach the mark. He poured in 26 points in UK's 105-76 win over Texas-Arlington in Rupp Arena, following in the footsteps of teammates Julius Randle -- who had his fifth straight double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds -- and Aaron Harrison in breaking Coach Cal's 25-point barrier.
"When you're 8 for 14 the way he played," Calipari said. "He had three assists, no (turnovers), played pretty good."
It took a little coaching from Calipari to make it happen.
Through his first four games, Young -- whom Coach Cal regularly calls the nation's best shooter -- had shot just 35.5 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range. Watching the tape from UK's win over Robert Morris on Sunday, Calipari noticed Young's problems were primarily mechanical.
He observed that Young was leaning back on his shot and not setting his feet, so Calipari summoned him into his office on Monday.
"You lean your shoulders back because your legs aren't under you and you're trying to get a little more oomph on your shot, and when you do that, you're basically fading away," Calipari said. "You're not going to be an aggressive consistent shooter on fade-away shots."
Unaccustomed to missing so regularly, Young applied his coach's advice willingly and immediately.
"I was frustrated," Young said. "I usually make shots, so when Coach Cal showed me that, I was just mind-blown. We easily fixed it."
Young would score 15 points on Tuesday before he missed a shot, rendering his struggles a distant memory. On the night, he made 5-of-10 3-pointers and 5-of-7 free throws.
"When I saw that most of the mechanics was right and just doing what Coach Cal told me to, I knew it was going to be a good night shooting," Young said.
To ensure that continues, Calipari is challenging Young. Even though shooting has always come naturally to the lefty, Young needs to hone his craft, says Coach Cal.
"He's one of those ones that you've got to love to get into the gym more," Calipari said. "Just get in there and shoot. You're 12 steps, you walk across the street."
But even if he does that, Young knows he won't be hitting shots every night. For that reason, he knows he needs to learn to respond better to misses. He's valuable to this Kentucky team in too many ways to disappear entirely because of a brick or two.
"I tend to put my head down a lot when I miss shots so he's just been getting on me and just saying let the shot go and keep moving on," Young said. "There will be more shots. I just listen to him and try not to put my head down and just keep moving on with the game."
And even if he did become the first shooter to ever avoid the occasional off night, Young is surrounded by too much talent to expect to be the featured scorer every time out.
"I can't score as much because we have a lot of people that can score," Young said. "If it's somebody's night, we just try to get them the ball as much as we can and I guess tonight was my night. They tried to get me the ball as much as they can and I just tried staying with my normal form and just getting some open shots I was hitting."
Young is one of three players to lead Kentucky in shot attempts through three games, and more will surely join the club in the coming weeks and months.
"We got too many guys that have that kind of talent so you know that some games you're feeling it you're going to get 10 or 12 (shots) and some games you're going to get four," said Willie Cauley-Stein, who posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. "That's just how it is here."