LEXINGTON (AP) — A slow start to the second half could lead to an early burial when the other team is wearing red and black instead of Saturday’s green.
The University of Kentucky has now entered the no-lapse zone. It needs to start the second half, and the game in general, the way it managed eight of the first nine minutes of the second half against Marshall. That’s when the Herd scored just five points in those eight minutes, and UK was able to put the salt on an 82-54 Saturday afternoon victory at Rupp Arena.
UK coach John Calipari took a quick timeout to stop Marshall’s quick opening, where it took a 33-24 halftime deficit and turned it into 33-31 moment of doubt for the Cats.
Calipari got his team’s attention. The Cats got settled in. And the romp that was expected was on.
“We got cool,” Calipari said of the second half opening. “We got a couple of guys want to go out, look around and its like an AAU game. You have to be in a dogfight every minute or sit down, let someone else play.”
The dogfight, cage fight scenario is exactly how it will be six days from now, when UK goes into the cauldron that will be the KFC Yum! Center. The No. 5 University of Louisville basketball team awaits there, and those Cardinals will have a firm memory of UK’s 69-62 grinding win in last year’s UK-U of L tussle at Rupp.
That UK team was good in so many ways, it had a good mix of very talented young players, and just enough experience, to earn a national championship.
This time, the roles are reversed, with U of L being the team with loads of talent, including likely the best pair of starting guards in college basketball. Those realities have led to heavy expectations for another Final Four at the least for the Cardinals.
None of that really matters to Calipari or the Cats. He played a bit coy when asked about what this game meant for the next one.
“Who are we playing next week? We’re plyaing Louisville?,” Calipari asked. “Wow, that’s going to be a hard game. I’m worried about my team right now. I’m not worried about anybody we’re playing. If we go in and Louisville is way better than us, we move onto the next game. We’ve gotten better. Is that good enough, I don’t know? They’ve got a veteran team. It’s a hard game for us. They’ve got terrific players.”
Calipari was less critical of his Cats after this victory than he had been the last couple of weeks. There were more positive results from Camp Cal. Players seemed more relaxed, more together.
“This team has more upside than any team in the country,” Calipari said of the Cats, now 8-3.
They got another great game from Ryan Harrow at point guard. He scored 23 points and ran the Cats with more efficiency. UK only had nine turnovers.
Harrow seems to be reading angles better, and knowing when to take the ball himself for some offense. That will be critical for UK’s next opponent, whoever it is.
“When he’s playing the right way, with aggressiveness, talking to his teammates, that look in his eye, he’s as good as anybody in the country,” Calipari said. “The guys that are better than him are more physical and play a rougher game. Are you going to play a rough house game? If you do you’re as good as anybody out there.”
Whether it was meant to be, that was a direct challenge for Harrow, who will be going against the bump and grind of U of L point man Peyton Siva and the other Cardinals.
Calipari wants Harrow and the Cats to be less cool and more combative. The UK coach explained the difference to Harrow between the sophomore being a good player and cool player.
“The good guy can be one of the best point guards in the country, the cool guy sucks,” Harrow said. “I don’t want to be a sucky player.”
And UK doesn’t want to be a sucky team, especially with some other team up the road as its next opponent.
UK has entered the no-lapse zone. As in not for one minute, 50 seconds, or even 30 seconds.