Andrew Harrison had 23 points and seven assists in UK's win over Georgia on Tuesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Aaron Harrison Sr. might want to extend his stay in Lexington if his son is going to play like that.
With his father in town the last couple days to work with him and his brother, Andrew Harrison had his best game of the season thanks in part to a little advice he kept in mind throughout.
"Just keep being aggressive," Andrew Harrison said. "Don't lose confidence in yourself. Just make sure you realize what you can do on the basketball court and do it and just play with confidence and have fun."
Aggressive, confident and having fun. Check, double check and triple check.
Andrew Harrison scored a season-high 23 points in a 69-58 win for top-ranked Kentucky (22-0, 9-0 Southeastern Conference). He made 8 of his 16 field-goal tries and 3 of 6 from 3-point range, but he found open teammates just as often, adding seven assists to just one turnover.
"Hard work pays off and, like I said, it's a blessing," he said, referencing the extra time spent in the gym with his father. "We've been working hard, the whole team has, and I got to play well today. I'm excited about that."
When opportunities presented themselves, he attacked in the open floor, a pleasing development for his coach.
"I don't want you pulling it out, playing it slow and bully ball," John Calipari said. "It doesn't work. Play, attack, go."
When assessing his strengths, Andrew Harrison's 6-foot-6 frame and ability to physically overwhelm smaller opponents is one of the first things mentioned. Calipari, however, doesn't want that to cause him to forgo the other things he can do well.
"He just wants me to use my speed, to show everybody my speed," Andrew Harrison said. "Even when I have smaller guards on me I still could have a speed advantage on them. He just wants me to show that."
On Tuesday night, he certainly did.
"Andrew played amazing today," said Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds. "He played out of his mind. He was hitting jump shots, he was locked in, kept the pace high, just made some great passes. If he could do this, what he did today, every day, we could be a really scary team."
Andrew Harrison came up especially big in the second half, as Georgia threatened to come back from a deficit that grew to as large as 18 points in the minutes after halftime. Many times the Bulldogs made big baskets to cut the UK lead to a little as five points, but it was Andrew Harrison who had the answer.
"Just the flow of the game," he said, sounding like the point guard he is. "They were guarding all my teammates and they left me with a shot I could make and I took it."
With UK's offense sputtering a bit after halftime and Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker combining to make just 1-of-10 3-pointers, Andrew Harrison scored 11 of the Wildcats' 27 points in the second half.
He often did it while sharing the floor with Tyler Ulis, as the two point guards combined to play 32 minutes after halftime. The two would alternate handling point-guard responsibilities, stressing the Bulldog defense.
"They're both intelligent players, both good players," Calipari said. "Both can score, both are skilled."
As well as they played together, there's no guarantee Calipari will go back to the two point-guard look at Florida on Saturday.
"But next game it may be Aaron playing out of his mind," Calipari said. "I mean, that's just how this is. That's why I keep saying, you know, we don't want to teach one guy to lead. That guy struggles, we lose. He feels bad, I'm sad, we lose. Well, just step back, man. We're fine. You're struggling today. Step back. Let Karl go get all the rebounds. You step back and let us win this thing."
Dominique Hawkins has started each of Kentucky's last two games. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
This is exactly why, on paper, Kentucky's depth was so important.
The Wildcats, with 12 talented players on their roster, would be able to weather the occasional bump, bruise or illness.
They've already done it a few times, most notably after Alex Poythress went down with a season-ending knee injury, but it appears they'll have to do it again. Trey Lyles' status is unknown due to an undisclosed illness.
"Everybody on the team is going to have to step up because missing Trey, that's a big part of our offense and defense," Dominique Hawkins said. "He does so much for us, and like I said, everybody's going to have to find a way to step up a little bit."
John Calipari said Lyles is likely out for Tuesday's game between top-ranked UK (21-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) and Georgia (14-6, 5-3 SEC). Beyond that, Coach Cal doesn't know when the forward and his 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds will return to the lineup.
The good news is the Cats have already survived Lyles' absence once, posting an impressive 70-55 victory over Alabama without him.
"We had to play without him and I thought we played great without him," Calipari said. "You're talking about a 6(-foot-)10 talented, talented player and we're playing without him now. But you know, again, I thought we played well without him but we're never going to be as good without him because he's a really good player."
As Coach Cal said, losing a player as talented and versatile as Lyles is never a positive. The Cats, however, are perfectly capable of compensating.
With Hawkins in a starting role for the fourth time in six games, Coach Cal went with smaller lineups, mixing and matching the Harrison twins, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Hawkins at the one, two and three positions. UK's length and rebounding take a hit with the change, but opportunity comes with it as well.
"We're definitely trying to pressure the ball more, make the point guard, or whoever's (driving) the ball up the court, make them feel like the pressure's getting to them so they're going to either throw it away or not get into their place so easy," Hawkins said. "As guards we're just trying to pressure them and make plays that they're trying to make happen harder than it should be."
Ball pressure has been Hawkins' signature over his two seasons, even though the sophomore guard hasn't always had a regular role. He went more than three weeks between appearances before being reinserted in the starting lineup when Calipari opted to return to the full-blown platoon system against Missouri on Jan. 13. Unfortunately, he would have to miss the next game after undergoing a minor medical procedure.
"I played really well and after that I had to sit out because of it and I was very frustrated because I felt like my chance was on and I wasn't going to be able to get another opportunity," Hawkins said. "But, Coach, he threw me back in and I was able to make the most of it again."
Hawkins has played a combined 19 minutes in UK's last two games, scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds. Included in that was a 3-pointer at Missouri on the Cats' first offensive possession, a sign of his budding confidence, a trait missing at times during his freshman season.
"I remember last year they'd just sag off of me and didn't play me at all, but now they cover me more," Hawkins said. "They probably watched film and saw that I hit my open shots."
It's just as important that Hawkins take those shots as he makes them. He must force opponents to guard him so he can do guarding of his own on the other end.
"One of the things that he brings is energy, effort every game," assistant coach Barry "Slice" Rohrssen said. "He's a tremendous defender. It's nice having him in there. He can really guard the basketball when he makes shots. Like anybody else it's always a bonus, but he seems more confident, comfortable each game."
Opening statement ... "Obviously two really good teams and two well-coached teams, and teams that are going to be ready for us, whether they come to us or we have to go to them. We're focused on us right now and how we need to get better, what are the things we have to do. With Trey Lyles being out, we don't believe he'll play Tuesday and don't know after that. We're going to try to figure that out. We had to play without him and I thought we played great without him. You're talking about a 6-10 talented, talented player and we're playing without him now. But you know, again, I thought we played well without him but we're never going to be as good without him because he's a really good player."
On Mark Fox and what his teams are like ... "Well I had to play his team when he was at Nevada. I'm a little bit older and can give you the rundown that his teams have always - they defend, they play inside out, they run great stuff. And let me say, he's changed some of his stuff this year so he's not locked in to having to play a certain way at all. It all depends on his personnel. You look at some of the guys that he brought to Georgia. Look at (Kentavious) Caldwell-Pope, how's he playing? You have talented guys, he's done a terrific job. Should have been in the NCAA Tournament a year ago. I just watched our game against them in the conference tournament. They should have been in the NCAA Tournament. I think he's one of the terrific coaches in our league and one of the better coaches in our country."
On the depth of the SEC ... "I think there's more, but I think we had a couple teams left out last year. A lot of it is just based on the perception that a team in one league loses to the last-place team on the road and they say, 'Well, tough game, it's on the road.' Our teams mix it up a little bit and all of a sudden it takes away from our league and it shouldn't be that way, and I said our coaches shouldn't stand for it and neither should the media covering us. So now you're looking at our league and before our last game we had six teams in the NCAA Tournament. Let me just give you an example, everyone in our league knows how good Vanderbilt is. How they could beat anyone. They had us on the ropes at home. They could beat anyone, but they're very, very young, so they've lost some games. You look at Mississippi State and the job Rick (Ray) is doing. You look up and down, there are no easy games. South Carolina plays a combination defense of pack line after they maul you 22 feet out on the court and then when you get it in play where you can play offense they're locking down the lane with pack line defense. Now, so you're talking about teams that are 'at the bottom of our league,' it's crazy. Hard games to win. Hard games to win on the road. I think the league, top to bottom, is the best since I've been here. But, I'll say this, because we're pretty good it should not take away from anyone in our league."
On what concerns him about Georgia with or without Marcus Thornton ... "They're playing good basketball, and again, Thornton being out hurts them, just like any of us having players out hurts us, but again, their guard play is probably their strength anyway. You're talking about (Charles) Mann, who is taking it to the rim, and you're talking about other guards who can get their own and shoot 3s and heck, I think those guards are shooting like 40 percent from the 3-point line. They're a team that is going to come in and play rough, because that's how they play. They're a team that's going to run their stuff, and they have players who can break out and guard against your defense and get points on their own if they have to."
On how he manages talk of going undefeated with his team ... "Our thing is, whatever happens for us, whether they're close wins, whether they're a loss, whether someone comes in and smacks us at home, we just have to look at it and say, 'OK, how do we use this? How do we use this as a team to get to another level?' That's what we're talking about. If it's going to take that to make us better, OK. Maybe it won't take that to get us better, but that's not our focus. I talked to my team yesterday and was very clear about why I'm being so aggressive when we haven't lost a game and we're up 20 and I'm all over mistakes. Because those are the kind of mistakes that lose in March. So, if I accept them now, then how do I not accept them in March? So, we're not accepting those kind of errors now. They're not crazy errors, but each guy has one or two things we're asking them to clean up with their game, and if they don't clean it up I'm going to be aggressive, I'm going to be mean and nasty whether we're up 20 or we're down 20. I think, for us, we keep coming back, how good can we be? We don't know yet, but one of the things we do know is, each player has to be the best version of themselves and eliminate some of the looseness of some of how we're playing for us to be the best version of ourselves as a team." On the development of Anthony Davis on and off the court ... "There are a couple things we try to do here. The three pillars that we want these kids to leave with - not that we're defining who I am, or defining my program, it's what we try to get them to leave with. One is industriousness - they understand the grind. They understand about trying to improve every day. The grind of what we do. He's learned it. The second thing is servant leadership. We want them all to leave here - every player - that if they're thrust in a leadership position they understand what it means. That's from walk-ons to starters. He understands. It also means you're going to be a great teammate because you're going to care about other people more than you care about yourself. That's Anthony Davis. The third thing is, we want them to leave here with a kind heart. Being a player here is signing autographs, taking pictures, spending time, meeting a child, going to an elderly home. Doing different things that take 30 seconds that change people. Going to the hospital. Marcus Lee went - we didn't even know where he was going and then all of a sudden a nurse sends me a two-page letter saying how what he did and how he was with the child changed how she does her job. Those are the things we want them to leave with. You look at Anthony, you're talking about, he understands the grind. He hasn't gotten caught up with all the other stuff. He understands he has to get better. The second thing is, he's an unbelievable servant leader. I went to the game when Tyreke Evans had it going, he was fine. He didn't say one thing. He's about his teammates. He blocks shots, he rebounds, but he can score more if he chooses to. Then the third thing is, the kid has a kind heart. He has a kind heart. He's a good person. He's good to the people in the organization. He's good to the people in New Orleans. Those are the things we're trying to teach all of the kids who go through this program."
Georgia head coach Mark Fox
Opening statement "Another challenging week in the SEC. Obviously, Kentucky is a terrific team and having one of the all-time great years. It will be a big challenge going into Rupp. And then Tennessee, who is off to, obviously, a very good start and playing differently than maybe some people expected them to play, but having a lot of success. So, we're facing two good teams."
On if he can give an update of senior forward Marcus Thornton ... "No, I can't. He's obviously in a concussion protocol program. He gets retested this afternoon and likely will have an update after that."
On playing without Thornton ... "It's hard to really change with two games a week and really limited practice days. Obviously, we have the Tuesday game this week. We'll make some adjustments if he can't play, but it's more than just Marcus. We have a number of guys down, as you know, and the cumulative effect of that is, well, it took its toll last weekend." On what they have to do to beat Kentucky ... "I thought our guys had a really good approach to practice yesterday. I haven't seen them yet today. Kentucky is a special team. You have to do a lot of things really, really well to give yourself a chance to win in their building. John has done a phenomenal job with his team. I think he's always been underappreciated as a coach. Their defense is great every year and this year is no different. Finding ways to get a basket is going to be important because they are so good on that end."
On what makes Kentucky so good defensively ... "Their length, their depth, their agility. They have the ability to switch different things. They're big at the basket and protect the basket. They have lots of depth and quickness so they can wear you down. I read where Coach (Roy) Williams from (North) Carolina thought that Kentucky was one of the best defensive teams he's ever seen, and he's seen a lot of really good teams through his tenure. They have so many guys who have great defensive traits and John has them bought in how they should play together." On what impresses him on the offensive end about Kentucky ... "Unselfishness. I think Kentucky is - it's hard to get that many great players to buy into helping each other and I think that what impresses me the most is their unselfish approach. They try to make each other better. That's why nobody's beat them. They're just great on both ends." On what Marcus Thornton provides for Georgia, both tangibly and intangibly ... "He's obviously our leading scorer and our leading rebounder and our leader. I felt like when he did not play Saturday, we replaced his rebounding, but not the other two things. I don't think we had the leadership throughout the game we normally expect, and we obviously didn't score the ball or play nearly as well offensively without him. He does a lot of things for us. He's obviously very experienced and been through a lot of wars and personal battles with the surgeries. He's a tough-minded kid. He's certainly a big part of what we do and hopefully we will have him back."
Karl-Anthony Towns scored all 12 of his points in the first half of UK's 70-55 win over Alabama. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
It was yet another double-digit win.
Kentucky built a double-digit lead in the first eight minutes against Alabama, but John Calipari didn't sound afterward like he is coaching the nation's lone unbeaten team.
"We're just, we're reverting, doing some things that are just absolute sins in this program," Calipari said.
Coach Cal went on to talk about the Wildcats too often going for rebounds with one hand. On a night when UK shot a season-high 58.5 percent and committed just five turnovers, Calipari still found reason to say the Cats were "just a little bit off."
Considering UK has blitzed through the first three months of the season and has trailed only 103:43 of a possible 855 minutes after its 70-55 win over Alabama on Saturday night, that might sound like nitpicking.
Well, that's kind of the point.
"I may be wanting these guys to be perfect on every possession, but you know what?" Calipari said. "I just think we have to keep that standard high of what we'll accept and what we're not accepting."
The perfection that everyone else is talking about - 40-0 - isn't the perfection Calipari and the Cats have in mind. If it happens along the way so be it, but each step in the journey is the focus.
"Right now, you should just try to find out how good you can be," Calipari said. "And that's all we're doing."
Take Karl-Anthony Towns as an example.
The freshman wasn't subtle about showing his potential in the first half against the Crimson Tide, scoring in the post on each of UK's first two possession en route to 12 points. But for the second consecutive game, Towns took a step back in the second half. He wouldn't score again after dealing with foul trouble.
"Gotta keep playing, play through a lot of things that happen in the second half and no excuses," Towns said. "Just keep playing through what the game is giving me in the second half. I just gotta keep making sure that I play the game (like) I played the game in the first half."
Anywhere else, Towns' line of 12 points in 15 minutes is solid. At UK, it's merely a tease of what he should be all the time.
"We're trying to get them to be confident and we did some stuff with Karl that I think helped him, but that second half is just like, come on now," Calipari said. "No way. This should have been a 25 and 8 night for him, it really should have."
Towns has remained near the top of NBA Draft boards throughout, but he admits adjusting to the physicality of the college game has been more difficult than he expected. He's learning.
"That's the biggest thing for me," Towns said. "Just keep being physical and keep playing my game. Now sometimes I get too aggressive and then I pick up fouls, but I'm just trying to play the game, trying to make sure I control the paint at all costs, defensively and offensively. It's a process."
Though the process is far from over, Saturday was a step forward for Towns and his fellow post players.
Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein each made all four of their field-goal tries to tie for the team lead with 12 points, while Dakari Johnson got to the free-throw line eight times and chipped in six points. Add in Marcus Lee's eight points and UK's bigs combined for 38 points on 13-of-16 shooting.
"Today our post play was good, which is why we shot over 50 percent," Calipari said. "Because now it opens up everything else."
Considering UK's size, the Cats projected to have that kind of post presence all season, but that hasn't been the case in recent weeks. Opponents began to worry less about the interior with Devin Booker, Aaron Harrison and Tyler Ulis hitting from the outside and the post players were unable to make them pay.
They changed that against Alabama.
"You either got to double team or you got to dig, you got to do something or the guy's going to score," Calipari said. "That's what Karl and Dakari and Willie should be able to do. Even in a physical game they should be able to do that."
If they do, UK's ceiling becomes even higher. That's a frightening proposition.
"Like I said, this team, the question is, how good can we be," Calipari said. "And I don't know yet. I'm trying to get guys to go to that next level. I'm prodding and pushing and screaming and yelling, go, because I really do want to see how good can we really be."