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January 14, 2013

Struggling Kentucky faces Tennessee at Rupp Arena

There are freshmen and there are Kentucky's freshmen.

The regular ones probably can average 13.4 points and 6.3 rebounds and satisfy some coaches and fans. Alex Poythress is doing that at UK and everybody's asking for more.

And maybe elsewhere, a freshman-dominated team can start 10-5 without much panic button pushing.

Maybe elsewhere.

"But we're at Kentucky," Wildcats coach John Calipari said Monday. "This is warp speed."

With a veteran team, Calipari said, he'd ask Poythress "just try to play a little harder." And he'd give players a little time to develop before he asked them to compete with upperclassmen.

But Calipari hasn't been one for veteran teams at Kentucky. And this season more than any other during his four-year UK tenure, the Wildcats' youth is showing.

As UK (10-5, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) prepares to host Tennessee (8-6, 0-2) Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, Cats fans are experiencing the down side of the win-with-youth formula.

Kentucky's five losses are the most it's had through 15 games since 2007-08, when Billy Gillispie was the head coach. The Wildcats had no home losses and one double-digit loss in Calipari's first three seasons combined. Already this season they have two of each, including last Saturday's 83-71 home court loss to Texas A&M.

"No one here to mimic," Calipari said of the difference between this team and his first three. "There's no one here to imitate."

Calipari's first three teams had more veteran contributors, players like Patrick Patterson, DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller who had been through the experience of playing at Kentucky, of facing SEC foes at home and on the road.

The lack of leaders to emulate means that more often than in recent years, Kentucky is playing like the young team it is.

"Just like the gambling and stuff on defense," freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said. "Not getting like key rebounds, those little mistakes you have that you don't have when you're a junior or senior.

"How sped up the process is for us freshmen and sophomores that are playing, they make us where we have to play like a junior or senior. We just don'tWe haven't bought into the system yet."

"Buy in" was a catch phrase around the program on Monday. Calipari referred repeatedly to "the process" of having a team come together and trust one another and said that the Cats aren't there yet.

"The only thing that brings about a change is crisis," Calipari said. "I'm hoping it's (the loss to) Texas A&M, but it may not be. We may need to get hit on the chin three or four more times before they look at each other and say, 'It's not working this way.'"

Despite their early struggles, the Volunteers are good enough to give UK one of those shots to the chin, Calipari said. Tennessee has experience - juniors Jordan McRae and Trae Golden and seniors Kenny Hall and Skylar McBee are among the top six players in the Vols' rotation - and some solid talent.

On paper, Kentucky is better.

But the Wildcats haven't clicked on the court. Calipari has lamented his team's inability to stop long scoring runs by opponents, evidenced by the 16-1 run Texas A&M used to rally from a four-point deficit last Saturday.

And UK appears to be struggling with the speed of the learning curve. With four freshmen - Poythress, Cauley-Stein, Archie Goodwin and Nerlens Noel - and sophomore Ryan Harrow in the starting lineup, Kentucky is among the nation's youngest teams.

At Kentucky, that's not an excuse for a slow start. In his first three seasons, Calipari won 102 games with freshman-dominated teams, sending eight freshmen to the NBA after the played a single season at UK.

"I think it's harder here because you're supposed to get here and get out of here," Harrow said, alluding to the expectation that UK players are good enough to be one-and-dones. "Basically that's what it is. But maybe that's not what it is for this group. And we have to accept that and keep playing as hard as we can."

That's not all they have to accept.

Calipari said it's crucial that his team understands that the status quo isn't working. The Cats have to want to change, he said.

"Now if there is a change, my vision is, there's no one late in this season (who) is going to want to play this team," Calipari said. "If we get it right. But right now it appears everybody wants to play this team."


TENNESSEE AT KENTUCKY| TUESDAY | 7 P.M. | ESPN
KENTUCKY (10-5, 1-1 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (112-19 in fourth season at Kentucky; 515-157 in 21st season overall)
Last game: Lost to Texas A&M 83-71
Roster | Stats
TENNESSEE (8-6, 0-2 SEC)
Coach: Cuonzo Martin (27-21 in second season at Tennessee; 88-62 in fifth season overall)
Last game: Lost to Alabama 68-65
Roster | Stats
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Ryan Harrow So. 6-2/170 10.1 2.5
G Archie Goodwin Fr. 6-5/198 15.7 4.9
F Nerlens Noel Fr. 6-10/208 10.8 9.3
F Alex Poythress Fr. 6-7/239 13.4 6.3
F Willie Cauley-Stein Fr. 7-0/244 7.6 5.9
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Jordan McRae Jr. 6-5/178 13.3 3.1
G Skylar McBee Sr. 6-3/195 6.1 1.0
G Josh Richardson So. 6-6/188 8.4 5.3
F Jarnell Stokes So. 6-8/270 11.2 7.7
F Kenny Hall Sr. 6-9/230 6.5 6.3
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: Rupp Arena (23,000), Lexington, Ky.
TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler play-by play, Jimmy Dykes analyst, Shannon Spake sideline).
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst); XM 199).
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: Kentucky by 13

Series Information
Series record: Kentucky leads 148-66
At Lexington: Kentucky leads 88-16
Coaches' records: Calipari 9-4 vs. Tennessee; Martin 0-2 vs. Kentucky

Last meeting: Kentucky 69, Tennessee 44, Jan. 31, 2012, Lexington, Ky.
The Wildcats broke out special-edition "platinum" uniforms. That wasn't the only new look for Kentucky. After holding off Tennessee 65-62 earlier in the season in Knoxville, Tenn., the Cats employed a smothering defense to cruise to an easy win at Rupp Arena. Anthony Davis had 18 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots to pace UK, which got 16 points and eight rebounds from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and 11 points and six boards from Terrence Jones. Renaldo Woolridge had 17 for the Vols.

Keys to the Game
1. Stoking the Rivalry: Jarnell Stokes would be a significant figure in Tuesday's game even if he hadn't announced in the offseason that Tennessee intends to win in Rupp Arena. At 270 pounds, Stokes is a load inside who averages 7.7 rebounds per game and has three double-digit rebounding games this season. Keeping him off the glass will be critical for Kentucky. Stokes has had at least five offensive rebounds three times this season, and the Wildcats will need to prevent him from getting the Volunteers extra possessions on the offensive glass.

2. Road Worriers: Tennessee has struggled on the road this season. The Volunteers are seeking their first true road win, having lost at Georgetown, Virginia and Alabama. The slow-paced nature of the games at Georgetown and Virginia can skew statistics, but the Volunteers are averaging 46.3 points per game in true road games. Tennessee lost 37-36 at Georgetown, 46-38 at Virginia and 68-65 at Alabama.

3. Rank and File: Tuesday's game will be a recent rarity in the Kentucky-Tennessee series. It snaps a streak of seven straight games in which at least one of the two teams has been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. This is only the third time since the 1990-91 season that neither team will be in the AP poll. That's a span of 47 games. Though neither team is ranked, Kentucky is coming off an NCAA championship. Historically, that shouldn't be daunting for the Vols. They've won seven of their last nine games against the defending NCAA champion dating back to 1999. That includes two wins against UK in the 1998-99 season.



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