Cats lack energy against Columbia



By Nick Gray

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Not even Columbia University’s baby-blue uniforms could convince UK that Wednesday’s game would be close to the test it will face on Saturday against similarly colored No. 21 North Carolina.

And that’s the way the Cats played.

Everything about UK’s effort screamed half-interest—from the 11-0 run by Columbia to start the game to UK’s slowly-but-surely march toward the lead it finally claimed with 13 minutes to play.

With the Tar Heels looming, the Cats performance was as expected as it was disappointing against an inferior opponent from the Ivy League.

“It’s a better game,” conceded sophomore forward Derek Willis. “We always get more hyped up against those teams (like North Carolina).”

Human instinct belies Willis’ statement. The players are more excited when North Carolina comes to town. The fans are more excited. The ushers are happier and more chipper.

The difference between the fans and ushers compared to the players is simple, though. Players have 30 regular season games to get ready for the postseason while the fans and ushers cheer their every success. To waste a large portion of one of those 30 games is losing an opportunity to prepare for March.

The notion that UK might be trying to brush aside Columbia and get to Saturday’s game began before tip-off when Cats coach John Calipari sat freshmen guards Devin Booker (knee) and Tyler Ulis (illness) for “minor injuries”.

That allowed Willis to play a role as the backup two-guard behind sophomore guard Aaron Harrison. He was one of the few focused Cats—five points in nine minutes and some good defense against quicker guards—who did his share on both ends of the floor. It was no coincidence that Willis’ two free throws gave UK its first lead of the game.

“(Getting focused on the game) starts when we have the pregame meal two or three hours before, when we learn about the other team’s matchups and such,” Willis said. “I was fine (mindset wise). It goes back to having more energy, and I don’t think we had the energy today (early).”

Energy wasn’t the only thing lacking. The Cats again struggled to shoot from outside, hitting 2-of-17 from 3-point land. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison slumped from all over, shooting 1-of-12 and failing to defend Columbia junior guard Maodo Lo, who scored the majority of his 16 points in the first 23 minutes before Aaron Harrison and junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein did a

far better job defending late in the game.

There’s another team cloaked in baby blue coming into Rupp Arena Saturday. The Cats have a lot of work, both in the training room and on the practice floor, to do.

But their biggest challenge rests between their ears.