COLUMN: Liggins and Harrellson feed off home cooking

Orange you glad that the Cats got to face the Tennessee Volunteers and experience the return of Bruce Pearl (and the creamsicle blazer) from an eight-game suspension in Rupp Arena?

If you’re a UK fan you should be because, frankly, it’s downright odd how different the Cats continue to look when playing at home compared to when they are playing on the road. They seem so much more confident and everybody else on the team, in addition to stud freshmen Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight, seem to be able to contribute big minutes in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena.

That “everybody” on Tuesday night meant veterans, namely junior guard DeAndre Liggins and senior forward Josh Harrellson, stepping up in a big way. On this night, Liggins and Harrellson finally understood the message UK head coach John Calipari has been trying to drill into his veterans for much of the season: The onus for success rests with them.

“How about this?” Calipari posed. “We made a run with Brandon sitting on the bench, and we also made a run when I took Terrence out early in the second half.”

In Knight’s and Jones’ absence from the floor, it would’ve seemed strange to predict Liggins, the defensive miser yet persistent flopper, and Harrellson, who had managed to score only 41 points in his last nine games after scoring a career-high 23 points versus Louisville, would eventually become the Cats top two scorers against the Vols, with 19 and 16 points, respectively.

Then again, predicting Pearl’s orange jacket or Vols guard Scotty Hopson’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air-esque haircut would qualify as fashionable for 2011 standards before the game would’ve seemed strange, too.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Nonetheless, Calipari had nothing but the highest of praise for Liggins and Harrellson.

“Fabulous, (Liggins) was fabulous … He deserves it the way he defends,” Calipari said. “Man, did Josh Harrellson play well, he’s capable of doing that.”

Liggins’ offense was spurred by what could’ve been his most intense defensive effort all season; he yelled and fist-pumped like a Jersey Shore cast member when he drew Hopson into committing an offensive foul in the second half concluding a frustrating night for the former Mr. Kentucky Basketball.

“I rattled (Hopson), I was into him and I was doing something he was uncomfortable with,” Liggins said.

Though Liggins can’t be expected to match his career high in points every game, he along with his teammates made commitments to Calipari this week in hopes of avoiding the selfish brand of basketball that has cost the team four close losses on the road.

“(Calipari) wanted me to be more selfish today and be more aggressive in the offense,” Liggins said.

Liggins said he and his teammates called out Harrellson for not being aggressive in practice the past two weeks, during which time Calipari said the big man had been “BS’ing” practice.

Naturally, Harrellson’s commitment to his team was to become more aggressive: “I just kind of went through the motions and stopped playing as hard as I had been playing and I just had the mentality where I was going to leave it all out there,” he said.

If these commitments continue when the Cats return to the road, an opposing team’s arena will be like a home away from home.