Cats make progress in 74-46 victory over Portland

UK forward Nerlens Noel blocks a shot during the first half of the Men's Basketball game v. University of Portland at Rupp Arena, in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday,December 08, 2012. Photo by Genevieve Adams | Staff.

By David Schuh | @KernelSchuh

dschuh@kykernel.com

The first game since UK men’s basketball head coach John Calipari implemented his 7 a.m. conditioning program wasn’t exactly what he wanted. Flashes of it, however, were plenty to get the Cats a 74-46 win over Portland University on Saturday afternoon.

“We got better, but we’re still a ways away,” Calipari said. “We’re still doing the same things, only a little better than we were doing them.”

The Cats took a 35-20 lead into halftime, but it wasn’t as dominant as the score would indicate. UK’s play was sloppy at times, and Calipari seemed to never stop instructing (or screaming).

Freshman forward Alex Poythress played an aggressive half with 11 points. Freshman center Nerlens Noel, who had a noticeable limp due to a left leg contusion, managed to stay active on the defensive side, totaling four blocks by the break.

The second half was much like the first, though UK showed glimpses of the intensity Calipari has been preaching.

The Cats showed a lot of excitement late, highlighted by two Goodwin transition dunks (one a three-point play) that brought the Rupp crowd to its loudest level of the day.

“Him in the open court never seems to amaze me,” graduate student Julius Mays said. “That’ll probably be on SportsCenter Top 10.”

Overall, however, the Cats were careless with the ball for much of the day. They finished with 14 turnovers, only three of which were recorded as Portland steals.

“I’m working on mental toughness and the mentality of this team,” Calipari said. “I’m trying to correct the mistakes I made and make sure that we get these guys after it.”

UK had a good defensive game statistically, holding the Pilots to a year-to-date best 46 points.

Noel finished with nine points, seven rebounds and seven blocks, the latter being his highest total of the season. 12 team blocks was also a season-high for the team.

Consequently, the Cats length inside was key, as they outscored Portland 42-16 in the paint.

Sophomore Ryan Harrow looked like he was gaining confidence as the day went on, especially with his offensive game. He finished with eight points, six assists and just one turnover, his most productive game of the season.

The offense seemed to run smoother when Harrow was running the point, something many around the team have said would be the case once he got back to 100 percent.

“It allows Archie to play off the ball and be more aggressive,” Mays said. “Ryan is a true point guard, and obviously he’s going to look to get other people the ball. So it’s a whole different look.”

The Cats have three weeks to prepare for their big matchup with Louisville, and without class after finals, Calipari is ready to get to work.

“I cannot wait,” Calipari said. “I wont be leaving campus for anything. I’ll be staying right here with these guys every day.”