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February 20, 2013

Notes: Calipari laments that he can't sit some Cats

John Calipari wishes he could use the bench as a teaching tool. Tell his players to sit down until they learned to play right.

But he can't.

His Kentucky team - which hosts Vanderbilt Wednesday night at Rupp Arena - simply doesn't have the depth. Calipari doesn't have the luxury of choosing to keep a player out of a game for anything other than necessity.

"Like I said, the frustrating thing is the bench isn't my friend," Calipari said.

He wishes he could sit a player for "like, four games in a row" to show a player that the team can play well without him. It's all part of Calipari trying to reach his hard-to-reach Cats.

The short bench is a product of the immense roster turnover from last year and a significant injury to an already thin roster. It's left Calipari with essentially a seven-man rotation.

It's also why he had a smaller margin of error for assembling a complete team after essentially all of last year's title-winning group left.

"The whole thing here, too, becomes: You lose your whole team (to the NBA) and have a great (recruiting) class but they're not quite to the (same level)," Calipari said. "You know what I'm saying? That's the risk you take."

Calipari said it's also the risk he's taken by assembling a roster the way he has -- a roster that's annually purged and replenished - that if there are "a couple guys just don't have the mental makeup for this … you get exposed here," even though he can caution them that UK isn't for everybody.

"Sometimes," Calipari said, "it happens."

Guards off
In the midst of their two-game losing streak, the Cats have let their guard down.

But one of the biggest reasons for UK's back-to-back losses is the guards letting the team down.

Last week the key to beating Florida was guard play, but UK failed. Against Tennessee, with Nerlens Noel out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the guards would have to carry the load. But the Volunteers dropped UK in Calipari's biggest defeat since 1989.

And if UK wants to turn its season around, the guards will have to pick up the slack.

"Our guard play is shaky at best; toughness around the basket, getting balls, we're not doing that," Calipari said.

Calipari did say after the thumping at Tennessee that guards Jarrod Polson and Julius Mays were the only players showing fight, but the Cats need more than just fight.

UK needs leaders, scorers and perimeter defenders.

And between Polson, Mays, Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow those traits aren't consistent.

Against Tennessee the guards combined to shoot 9-of-25, but more concerning was Harrow failing to score for the second-straight game.

UK fans are no stranger to a slumping Harrow but it's no secret the Cats are better when he's scoring

"I don't really know, but he's the same Ryan," Polson said. "He'll be back, he'll be back at it and hopefully he'll have a good game tomorrow."

With the exception of the season opener, Harrow hadn't been scoreless all season, but in his last two games he's missed all five shots he's taken and failed to reach the free-throw line.

More surprising is how few shots he's taken in UK's two-game losing streak. Against the Vols, his two missed shots tied for his fewest field-goal attempts all season.

The Cats also allowed Tennessee and Florida's guards to control the tempo and get where they wanted on the court.

Calipari has noticed.

"Obviously, defensively, it was poor (at UT)," Calipari said. "So we're changing a little bit. We've got some issues to deal with, but the biggest thing is just battle, fight.

"You've got nothing to lose, go after it. But we'll see."

UK might play more zone, though there's been no indication yet that it's coming.

"We didn't work on it too much in practice yesterday," Polson said. "But there might be more zone."

Take-charge attitude
Without Nerlens Noel able to leap through the air, Kentucky needs to hit the ground.

In learning to play without one of the nation's best shot blockers, Calipari has charged his team with taking more charges.

Whether UK can take enough to compensate for Noel's 4.4 blocks per game remains to be seen.

"A lot of us, we haven't been taking charges our whole life. It's something new for a lot of us," guard Jarrod Polson said. "I mean, a charge is just as good as a block. Even better, it gets a foul on them."

But that's not the only defensive issue Kentucky faces now that its best defender is out for the season.

The Wildcats' perimeter defense was exposed against Tennessee as its guard slashed to the basket.

"(Noel) had especially the guards' back a lot," Polson said. "Maybe we'd get beat sometimes, (but) he'd be there to help us out. You could kind of just guard your man and let him just block it once they get in the lane."

UK doesn't have that luxury anymore. Its defense, which had a season-worst game against Tennessee, will get another chance to adapt to life without Noel against Vanderbilt.

It might be the only way to truly test how effective UK's new-look defense can be.

Calipari said he is "changing" how the Cats play defensively and implementing some new schemes in practice. The early results are mixed: Calipari said his players are having some difficulty grasping the intended adjustments.

"We have more 'my faults' this year than I can tell you," Calipari said. "It's just a lack of concentration and discipline."

So he will just have to see how it works against a Vanderbilt team that's offensive efficiency rating of 97.6 ranks No. 213 in the nation, according to KenPom.com.

"Well, the only way you can learn what's working and not working is in the games," Calipari said. "Then you have some time to adjust, a day or two, and then you've gotta throw it in the next game. That's where we are."

The Cats are also at a spot where they're trying to see how just how many weaknesses Noel covered up - and how they can compensate for that now that he's unavailable.

"We're trying to get over it," Polson said, "and see what we can do defensively without him."


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