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November 9, 2011

Cats will play two of first three away from Rupp

His basketball team will hit the road early, and Kentucky coach John Calipari is fine with that.

The No. 2-ranked Wildcats open the regular-season Friday with a home game against Marist, but next week will face Kansas at Madison Square Garden in New York City, then travel to Uncasville, Conn., for two games in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

"Obviously, teams that play at home all of November end up not understanding - they get in league play and they get bashed right away," Calipari said. "Well, we're on the road right away."

That's by design, intended to toughen a team that Calipari said "will be driven" by sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb and seniors Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas but also is counting on four new faces, freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer.

"We've got a tough schedule, and this is supposed to toughen us up and get us to understand," Calipari said. "But you know what? Early on that's what you want to do. We're such a young team. We're going to be a team that (is) freshman- and sophomore-oriented."

The Wildcats will make a road trip of next week's games. They won't return to Lexington between visits to New York and Uncasville, where they'll play Penn State on Saturday and either South Florida or Old Dominion on Sunday.

That offers some additional bonding time for a team that's been growing closer since it first got together in the summer.

"We've meshed pretty well," Davis said this week. "Everybody hangs out together. We do a lot of things together. It's real cool. Everybody likes each other. Nobody's out here playing for themself."

Still, the Wildcats are a work in progress. Calipari knows he won't take a well-oiled machine on the road next week.

"We're probably where most teams are that have all-new players," Calipari said. "It takes time, and I don't want us to be in February shape when it's still November. We're not conditioned that way yet. We're not going to be looking like we will two and a half, three months from now.

"But right now, they're playing hard and they're trying, and that's half the battle. Just compete. We'll figure it out. We're going to make mistakes. Just compete."


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