Calipari’s conundrum

By Les Johns

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The pieces to the puzzle seem to be at UK basketball head coach John Calipari’s disposal. The question is how do they all fit together.

That question holds true for the season, much as it did for the Blue-White game Wednesday night.

The Blue team defeated the White team 89-88 at Rupp Arena in a game in which several players switched sides. Two changed during halftime, another changed midway through the second half and junior Ryan Harrow even switched in the middle of a conventional three-point play.

Freshman Archie Goodwin led all scorers with 32 points, connecting on 11-for-22 from the field, 2-of-3 behind the arc and 8-9 from the free-throw line for the White team. Had he been perfect on his three free-throws with .1 second remaining in the contest, he would have forced an overtime.

“No one wants to lose in any game even though it was a scrimmage game,” Goodwin said. “The other team won, but it was a really good game.”

Freshman Alex Poythress added 25 points for the White team, connecting on 9-for-19 from the field.

Six other Cats reached double-digits, including sophomore Kyle Wiltjer, who actually scored 16 for the White team and 12 for the Blue team.

“Kyle is going to have to defend better,” Calipari said. “Jon Hood (who scored 17 points) just had his way with the guy. I told Kyle he has to do other things than just hit jump shots, because if you aren’t hitting them, then I’m going to have to sit you down.”

The White team, comprised of what most consider to be the likely starters, trailed the Blue team 46-38 at the half.

Graduate transfer guard Julius Mays, who scored 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, and freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein, who had 11 points and three blocks, were the standouts for the Blue team in the first half. Both were switched to the Blue team to start the second half.

“I did alright. I played pretty hard the first half and then I got extremely tired,” Cauley-Stein said. “In the second half my legs were kind of dead.”

The positives for the Cats? Eight players contributed, several players are capable of attacking the rim, Wiltjer and Mays will provide a solid stroke from the perimeter and Cauley-Stein and Noel combined for 12 blocked-shots.

The negatives? Plenty, according to Calipari. The team had only scrimmaged 12 minutes prior to Wednesday’s game. Calipari said they haven’t scrimmaged because they don’t know how to play yet.

“We have a long way to go,” Calipari said. “We don’t rotate, we don’t scramble and we aren’t a great rebounding team. This shows our team that we have to be a great defensive team.”

Calipari wants the team to focus on getting better month-by-month, day-by-day, starting Thursday with a 6:30 a.m. practice focusing on defense.

“We will be fine — we lost a whole team,” Calipari said. “We have a whole brand new team. We are who we are and it shows.”

This new team has some impressive pieces. It is too early to tell if they will fit perfectly together.