Calipari, Cats prep for Lafayette

Freshman forward Alex Poythress dunks the ball against Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic game at the Georgia Dome on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. Photo by Scott Hannigan | Staff

By David Schuh | @KernelSchuh
dschuh@kykernel.com

Coming off its first loss of the season, the UK men’s basketball team returns home to take on the Lafayette Leopards on Friday night.

Tuesday’s seven-point loss to Duke was a learning experience for the Cats, but also a game they thought they should have won.

“We saw we can fight back,” graduate student Julius Mays said, “but we let them make some plays and that came from them being a veteran team and us being a younger team. I think we can take a lot from it.”

Much contention after the game was aimed at the interior defense, mainly freshman forward Nerlens Noel and his tendency to leave his feet too soon on shot fakes, resulting in easy offensive rebounds and scores. But, according to UK head coach John Calipari, he is not the problem.

“He was aggressive. I was really happy with Nerlens,” Calipari said. “If you watched, it was his man that got that rebound probably four times when it was critical. When he goes to help somebody, nobody is helping him. ”

There isn’t much to update on sophomore guard Ryan Harrow’s recovery from the flu, Calipari said. Harrow didn’t make the trip to Atlanta on Tuesday and remains a question mark for Friday’s game.

“He worked out yesterday, but he’s still not 100 percent, “Calipari said. “We’re telling him, you’ve got to get your energy. We were a little bit short last game and we know it. I want him back.”

A point of emphasis in practice this week has been conditioning. Calipari said one takeaway from the late stretch of the Duke loss was that his team ran out of energy and its level of execution slipped as a result.

“We watched film of the game yesterday,” Mays said. “There was that stretch where we didn’t score and they were making winning plays and we weren’t. I’m sure that’s what we’re going to work on in practice — learning how to push through even when you’re tired.”

Lafayette, which beat LIU-Brooklyn by four on Monday, is a young team in its own right. The Leopards, who boast only four upperclassmen, have a big frontcourt with five players at 6-foot-9 or taller.

“This team plays great stuff,” Calipari said. “They run our stuff, but they do it higher. So if you get lazy, you’re going to pay a price. It’s what we need right now.”

The first two games will serve as a benchmark of sorts as UK rolls into a stretch of three games that, on paper, should be fairly lopsided.

“It was a benefit playing good teams early on,” sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer said. “But, we want to look at every game the same and prepare like we have been.”

The game, part of the Barclays Center Classic, will start at 7 p.m. It will be televised locally on Fox Sports South.