UK returns home from Maui with lessons learned

Josh Harrellson and the rest of the basketball team have returned home from Hawaii after playing in the Maui Invitational.

He wasn’t showing any lingering signs of longing to go back.

“It’s going to be great to play in Rupp Arena again,” Harrellson said. “We’ve been gone so long, it will be good to be back in front of the hometown crowd.”

Perhaps the sentiment stems from the way they left Hawaii.

When UK (4-1) steps onto the floor against Boston University at 7 p.m. Tuesday, it will be the first since an 84-67 championship game loss to Connecticut in Maui.

Connecticut had a 21-point halftime lead in that game, and UK’s young team didn’t know how to respond.

“It was a different experience than we’re used to,” Harrellson said. “We just didn’t know how to handle it out there. We didn’t have the leadership out there we needed.”

It was especially tough for the freshmen, who encountered their first real mettle-testing moment of the season.

“Being 21 down at the half, those guys have probably never been down that much at the half,” Harrellson said. “In a way, they didn’t know how to recuperate from that and come out and play as a team.”

Junior DeAndre Liggins said it wasn’t just the young players who didn’t know how to handle the large deficit. He admitted to trying to do too much as he saw the score widen.

Players doing their “own thing” displayed a tendency to drive the lane and try to create plays that were nonexistent. Liggins said it’s a fine balance between being aggressive in driving the ball, as the dribble-drive motion offense warrants, and being overaggressive.

“It’s very hard for me, I’m an attacking player,” Liggins said. “I just have to recognize what I have, and if the defense collapses I have to hit the people on the wing wide open.”

UK head coach John Calipari labeled his team’s play against Connecticut as “selfish” after the game.

“When we would break down on offense, everyone would just try to do it themselves rather than as a team, so yeah, you can consider that selfish,” Harrellson said. “But I think people are just trying to do what is the best thing for the team. Just in the wrong way.”

Part of losing control of the championship game came when freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 23 points and 11.3 rebounds in the tournament,  were on the bench with foul trouble.

“That’s a tough situation, we have to keep them out of foul trouble every game,” Harrellson said of playing without the team’s top two scorers. “But when one or two of our best players go out we have someone to step up and be an offensive threat. That’s DeAndre, Darius (Miller), even if Hood comes in and knocks down a couple threes.”