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By Les Johns | @KernelJohns
The scorer’s table was a virtual revolving door, as UK head coach John Calipari shuffled in player after player looking to get the perfect combination of effort and production.
More than just using the bench as a motivational weapon, Calipari is also using it as a teaching tool. He is incredibly vocal on the sidelines during play, but uses the time as players join him on the bench to teach them what they did wrong to warrant being pulled from the game.
This process was repeated often in Saturday’s blowout 88-50 win over Lipscomb—nearly a substitution per minutes (38 for the game).
Early in the second half, one substitution was just for a couple of seconds, as freshman forward Alex Poythress was brought in as Lipscomb shot free throws. Poythress missed his block out assignment, and the Cats failed to secure the defensive rebound, prompting Calipari to pull Poythress right back out to chat about the play.
“He just didn’t get the ball. He has two excuses. His big toes hurt and the other guy slipped in front of him and didn’t block him out,” Calipari said. “He didn’t give us one, he gave us two. Okay. You’re out—next time.”
The Cats have just one more supposed tune-up (Saturday against Marshall at Rupp Arena) before the yearly battle with state rival No. 6 Louisville. Not much longer after that, conference play begins.
Calipari knows that if the Cats are going to reach their potential, they have to make strides now.
“If we don’t start changing, we’re going to struggle,” Calipari said. “You either want to change of you have your excuses of why it’s happening. Let’s just change. That’s my thing.”
The Cats did move forward Saturday. Sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow had his most complete game to date, sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer knocked down some shots and was a surprising presence on the boards, and freshman forward Nerlens Noel stuffed the stat sheet yet again.
“I thought we played better—I guess. I don’t know,” said Harrow. “I guess we all just have to play with intensity the whole game and don’t have the coaches telling us what we need to be doing. We just have to come out there and be ready to play.”
The individual pieces are there. The question now seems to be if they are able to come together to become the team they are capable of.
According to Calipari, he will need to see much more improvement in the next couple of weeks of “Camp Cal” for them to reach their potential.
“We just went five days, and I saw little change. So if I see a little change in this next week, from that point on, folks—we’re not winning many,” Calipari said. “That’s a fact.”
Harrow believes the team will continue to improve.
“Come January and February, we’ll be the team everybody had been looking for,” Harrow said.