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Full-court press: Kentucky's struggles could cause young 'Cats to miss NCAA Tournament

Published Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm EST Last updated 54 minutes and 40 seconds ago

The mock drafts mock Kentucky, 24/7.

If you?d looked it up on the internet on Saturday night, you would have found three Kentucky freshmen in the top 10 of the projection at DraftExpress.com ? including struggling forward Alex Poythress, who Saturday was trusted for only 21 minutes in a tough game against Texas A&M.

You?ll still find three UK players in the lottery section of the mock draft at NBADraft.net. At least its evaluators moved struggling Poythress into the 2014 mock.

At least one Kentucky player figures it?s time for the young Wildcats to start thinking less about sprinting through their college careers and more about making them last at least into late March. Because after UK?s 83-71 home loss to Texas A&M, it?s entirely possible this team could be lasting into late March ? but in the NIT.

Kentucky is 10-5, with only a 2-5 record against major opponents. Others have suggested there might not be enough ?quality wins? available to the Wildcats because of the dismal season the SEC has endured to date, but right now they just need wins, period. Close, competitive losses against top-5 opponents Duke and Louisville are not going to get them there without some success to validate them.

This is the most a UK team has struggled under coach John Calipari. He warned during the pre-conference portion of the schedule that he did not have a ?magic wand? that would turn his freshmen into instant stars. However, ?I like my team? has been a constant refrain. It was expected that having extra time to work with the players during the holiday break would improve them, but they faded against a Vanderbilt zone and nearly lost their SEC opener, and now this.

Point guard Ryan Harrow told Brett Dawson of Rivals.com that there is extra pressure on UK?s freshmen ?because you're supposed to get here and get out of here." Harrow believes some players might need to accept that they?ll need a second year of college to become NBA-ready players, as happened previously with guard Doron Lamb and forward Terrence Jones.

Center Nerlens Noel, the most consistently successful of UK?s freshmen, said the players on the team ?have to take responsibility. Coach Cal has done a lot for us but I think it?s time for us as players to come around and start clicking.?


A lot of people wanted to bury Ben Howland as UCLA coach after a bevy of anonymous sources tried assailed his coaching ability and handling of the Bruins to Sports Illustrated last season.

They wanted to bury Howland as UCLA coach after the Bruins sandwiched losses to Georgetown and San Diego State around a Pauley Pavilion stinker against Cal Poly.

They wanted to bury him when extraneous Bruins began to transfer, from guard Tyler Lamb to big man Joshua Smith.

Whoever they may be, they do not have much to say at the moment. UCLA has won nine consecutive games. They did not win those games against a string of lightweights, but rather over Texas, Missouri and their first four Pacific-12 Conference opponents. Following a 78-75 victory at Colorado, they are alone in first place in the league, although Arizona State could tie them by winning Sunday night at Oregon.

?It's the greatest feeling in the world, coming into a tough environment like this where it's us against the world, and winning,? Howland said following the Colorado game. ?Every win is tough, there's nothing easy here. I can't remember when we had an easy win. It's just one game at a time, and this makes the trip going home a lot better."

UCLA is neither a perfect team nor a deep team. The defense continues to have challenges, but it has found a way to at least take away certain elements of the opposing team?s attack. Against Colorado, it was the 3-pointer. The Buffs typically shoot 37.3 percent but were just 5-of-17.

?We're playing better defense,? Howland said. ?We?re evolving and guys are learning.?

Offensively, the development of freshman wing Shabazz Muhammad has elevated the entire attack. He scored 14 against CU, his 13th double-figure scoring game in 14 tries as a collegian. They?ve averaged 79.9 points during their nine-game winning streak.

?I tip my hat to them ? because they did what they had to do to win the game, and we didn't,? Colorado?s Tad Boyle said. ?Sometimes it just comes down to who is making plays and shots and tonight they did and we didn't.?


Monday night, after his Cincinnati Bearcats had lost their third consecutive home game ? following a 12-0 start that led them to a No. 8 ranking in the AP poll ? coach Mick Cronin told reporters he was in a more comfortable position for his team to be backed up against the wall, widely dismissed.

"We are used to being in this spot," Cronin said. 'I'm used to people second-guessing me as the coach of Cincinnati and I'm used to people bagging it on our team, national people thinking we are not any good. So, we are right back to where we are comfortable."

He pointed out last season?s Bearcats lost three consecutive Big East games in late January and recovered to finish 12-6 in the league and reach the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

So maybe he was onto something.

Cincinnati overpowered Rutgers on the road from the very start Saturday night, holding the Scarlet Knights to 15 first-half points and then holding them off throughout the second half, leaving Jersey with a 68-58 record and evening its Big East record at 2-2. After scoring only 5 points in losing to Notre Dame, point guard Cashmere Wright scored 23 points.

Cincinnati did not commit a single turnover in the first half.

?That was something I was extremely proud of,? Cronin said during his postgame radio show. ?That was the game plan.?


It was supposed to be a step up in class, but it turns out it might have been a stretch to suggest two programs that have been to the Final Four might find a more competitive conference more daunting.

Butler is new to the Atlantic 10. VCU is new to the Atlantic 10. And the rest of the A-10 is probably wishing now they?d go back where they came from.

Shipped in their first week of league competition to three of the more challenging venues in the league ? Butler to Saint Joseph?s and Dayton, VCU to St. Bonaventure ? the Bulldogs and Rams won all three of their road games. That?s more than half the road wins in the league?s first week.

It?s no big thing for the Rams, who?ve won 10 of their past 11 road games, dating back to last January.

?When you go on the road in this league, it?s a higher caliber team that you?re playing vs. the road games that we?ve played earlier this year,? Rams coach Shaka Smart told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. ?That means we?re going to have to play better for longer stretches. We played just well enough.?

Say hello to:

The Auburn Tigers. With a 74-71 victory at South Carolina, the Tigers moved to 2-0 in SEC play ? for the first time in 10 years. They also edged over .500 to 8-7 overall, so there?s no parade scheduled yet.

?We are still getting closer,? coach Tony Barbee said. W?e are still not a finished product, but we are getting closer into what is important and what is our identity. That is our grittiness and our toughness, and that shows up when adversity hits. We weren?t so tough early in the season.?

Say goodnight to:

Texas A&M guard Elston Turner. The senior guard put Kentucky to sleep with a 40-point onslaught that included 14-of-19 shooting and six 3-point baskets. Averaging 15.5 points per game, Turner had only topped 20 in two other games.

?I just stepped back and watched the show for a minute like everybody else did,? Aggies guard Fabyon Harris said.

Say a prayer for:

Maryland-Eastern Shore. The Hawks fell to 0-13 with a 63-58 loss to Norfolk State. Entering Saturday's play, the Hawks ranked 340th in scoring, 336th in assists and 347th in field goal shooting. But hey, they?re getting closer. This was the first loss all season by a single-digit margin.

Source: http://aol.sportingnews.com/ncaa-basketball/story/2013-01-12/full-court-press-kentucky-wildcats-need-wins-bubble-watch-ncaa-tournament-nit

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