UK overcomes halftime deficit to stave off Columbia

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UK fans may have caught a glimpse of the best testament to the platoon system Wednesday as the Cats got blitzed by Columbia and faced a halftime deficit for the second time all season.

Freshman guards Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker were late scratches from the 56-46 victory against the Lions.

The loss of two key cogs hindered UK head coach John Calipari’s ability to switch between two five-man teams, forcing five players to play more minutes at a time.

“That’s what the platoons have done for us (this season), it hides all of this,” Calipari said. “Because instead of getting seven minutes of (sloppy play), you get two (minutes).”

With the lack of substitutes at the guard position, sophomore guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison had to play more than 30 minutes in the game for the first time all season.

“It’s the first time we’ve played like that this year, so we weren’t used to it,” Aaron Harrison said. “We played a team that had a style of play we weren’t used to and I think that had something to do with our energy.”

That style of play was trying to slow the pace of the game, which took the Cats out of rhythm in the first half and limited their ability to throw lobs.

“I think the first 30 minutes we did a really good job (of slowing the pace),” said Columbia head coach Kyle Smith. “They have the athletes and the right guards to throw the passes. They must practice (lobs) a lot.”

Columbia hadn’t beaten a Top-25 team in nearly 40 years, but it isn’t averse to taking top teams to the wire.

Last season the Lions went into East Lansing, Mich., and led Michigan State for most of the game, something they used as motivation on Wednesday.

“It gave us confidence at first to have a good start,” said Columbia junior guard Maodo Lo. “But against … a quality team like that, it’s important to play consistent throughout the whole game.”

Behind the dominant performance of Lo, who came up just four points short of scoring 20 in four consecutive games, Columbia held UK to a season-low 23 points at the half. The Cats were able to flip the switch in the second half and weather the Lions’ storm.

Calipari cited freshman forward Trey Lyles, who had 10 rebounds and two blocks, as one of the reasons for the quick turnaround.

“I thought Trey was outstanding today,” he said. “(He had) 10 rebounds and had a couple stick-backs. If he makes those, he goes two assists, two blocks, 10 rebounds and seven points. He was really good; great motor.”

Attention now shifts to Saturday when No. 21 North Carolina comes to Rupp Arena and whether Booker and Ulis will be available for the game.

“We’re playing a big game and they’re a really good team,” Aaron Harrison said. “It’s very important (to get them back).”