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Montana State coach familiar with Rupp and Bluegrass State

The game at Kentucky Sunday night will be something of a homecoming for Montana State Coach Brian Fish.
As a high school player from Seymour, Ind., he played in an all-star game staged in Rupp Arena.
Fish played his first two college seasons for Western Kentucky. When then WKU Coach Clem Haskins moved to Minnesota, Fish transferred to Marshall.
“I was a bad player, but I enjoyed it,” Fish said of his college playing career. “. . . I was never on the first page of the scouting report, I can tell you that.”
Fish also has family ties to the University of Kentucky. His brother, Mark, attended UK’s medical school.
A nephew, Luke, currently attends UK.

Cal emphasizes more shots for Aaron as part of UK growth

In emphasizing how Kentucky must improve, Coach John Calipari said shooting guard Aaron Harrison must do more scoring.
“Aaron has to get baskets for us,” Calipari told reporters after UK routed Kansas Tuesday. “You guys know if we’re in a tight game and there’s a basket that needs to be made, it’s going to come from him.
“Now, we have to figure out ways, and he does, to get more shots and get more opportunities. Better shots. Maybe I’ve got to put in a couple things where we know to go to him.”
Kentucky has “a long way to go offensively,” Calipari said. The Cats shot with 43.1 percent accuracy. To win by 32 points without shooting well seemed to thrill the UK coach.
When asked how he’d feel if told his team would win by such a large margin without shooting well, Calipari said, “I would love it.”
He said his UMass teams did that. “Which means you’re guarding,” he said. “You’re not turning it over. You’re doing other things.”
UK committed only six turnovers, and none from the 12-minute mark of the first half until only 10:26 remained in the game.

Cal lauds platoons; Self downplays them

On the subject of platoons, Kentucky Coach John Calipari and Kansas Coach Bill Self offered opinions about as disparate as Tuesday’s final score.
Calipari saluted the platoon system of substitution as an essential building block in this Kentucky team.
“There’s no way (UK could start the season so successfully) if we didn’t have solid, selfless kids doing what we’re doing: giving them half a game,” he said. “And accepting it. Unless they allow us to do this, we can’t do it.”
While saying Kentucky has much improvement to make, Calipari added, “The great thing is when we come into town, the other guy (the opposing coach) has to figure out two teams.”
But Self downplayed platoons as significant in UK’s 72-40 victory.
“I don’t think the platoon deal (pause) I don’t think it was a factor at all,” he said.
Ten UK players logged double-digit minutes. The ten played as many as 21 minutes (Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein) and no fewer than 17 (Marcus Lee, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis).
Whichever interpretation you like, there was no denying that Kentucky put what Self called a “beat-down” on Kansas. It was almost seamless, as evidenced by UK having as many blocks (11) as Kansas had baskets (11).
“His team by the end of the year will be fine,” Calipari said in trying to temper reaction to the one-sided victory. “We kind of bum-rushed them a little bit, and every time they looked, there were more tanks coming over the hill. It wasn’t substitutes. It was reinforcements. Here they come. It kind of gets to you a little bit.”

Bill Self: 40-0 talk about Kentucky not ‘crazy’

After his team lost 72-40 Tuesday, Kansas Coach Bill Self said talk of Kentucky going undefeated this season was not delusional.
“I don’t think it’s crazy to think that,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d base everything on this one game because this wasn’t, obviously, much of a contest.”
Things happen throughout a long season that make an unbeaten record implausible, Self said.
“They’re going to go somewhere where they catch somebody when (the opponent) plays great,” Self said. “It’s going to be hard.”
After noting that Wichita State did not lose last season until facing Kentucky in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Self said, “There’s no reason that shouldn’t be . . . a goal. I don’t know if you should talk about that now. But by February, if they’re still undefeated, that could be something that could happen.”
UK Coach John Calipari began his post-game news conference by trying to tamp down reaction to the lopsided victory, the second-largest margin in the series.
“No, we’re not that good,” he said before the first question was asked. “Next question.”
Self disagreed.
“I thought they were great,” the Kansas coach said. “You get long athletes who like to guard, they can cover up mistakes as well as anybody I’ve ever seen. They were really, really impressive.”
When asked what kind of team or what kind of strategy could beat Kentucky, Self suggested it would take something unusual.
“Somebody’s going to have to play a great game to beat them,” he said. “There’s no question about that. That could happen, especially away from home. But somebody’s going to have to be special on a certain night for them to get knocked off.”
Because of Kentucky’s size, a team with a low-post scorer but not a power forward to create space with outside shooting will have trouble scoring enough to beat Kentucky, Self said.
“A tough team” could challenge Kentucky, he said. “But a team skilled enough that they can drive the ball and force help and play from the perimeter rather than play from the interior.”
Kentucky is ahead of competition at this stage, Self said. Perhaps, in part, because of the trip to the Bahamas. Other teams will have time to catch up to Kentucky, the Kansas coach said.
“There will be teams out there that can challenge them,” he said. “Whether they can beat them, I don’t know.”
Calipari noted how Kentucky can improve.
“We have a long way to go offensively,” he said.
Calipari said future opponents, unlike Kansas, will pack a zone into the lane and invite Kentucky to shoot from the perimeter.
“We have so much to figure out about this team, it’s not funny,” Calipari said.
It was hard to tell if Calipari was serious or just what he was trying to say.
Self offered help. When asked if Calipari’s comment about UK not being good was coach-speak, the thing to say in mid-November, Self smiled and said, “Well, you guys who cover Kentucky, how much stuff do you actually believe that John says?”
When the laughter subsided, Self added, “I’m joking on that.
“I’d say he’s got to say that. For this early in the season, they’re pretty good.”

Cal: UK will ‘narrow’ offense in prep for aggressive Kansas

Coming off a 41-percent shooting performance against Buffalo, Kentucky will “narrow” its offense going into a future that begins with a Tuesday game against No. 5 Kansas.
“We were a little disconnected . . . ,” Coach John Calipari said Monday of UK’s offense against Buffalo the day before. “We just didn’t create good shots for each other.”
Thus, Calipari said UK will alter its approach on offense.
“We’re going to narrow it a little bit, so they are more connected,” he said. “So they understand a little bit better. . . . It doesn’t mean I don’t want them to have freedom to play.”
To explain a more narrow offense, Calipari suggested the Cats needed more direction from the coaches.
“We didn’t run enough stuff when we could have,” he said of UK’s play against Buffalo. “We just kept trying to go (and forcing the action). When we did run our stuff, either group, we were good. We got the ball wherever we wanted. We scored. We got great shots. We got fouled. We were in great position to offensive rebound.”
Calipari rejected the idea that Buffalo’s adherence to half-court defense played a significant role. The Bulls limited UK’s fast-break offense to eight points, none in a first half.
“When we ran half-court offense, as a matter of fact, we were really good,” Calipari said. “When I watched the tape, I said, ‘Shoot! This is a grind-it-out type of team.'”
Kansas may test that thinking and UK’s hopes of connecting better on offense.
“They play hard,” Calipari said. “They pressing. They’re denying (passes). They’re pushing up on defense. They’re trapping rarndomly at times. They’re trapping pick and rolls. They’re being very, very aggressive.”

Cauley-Stein: Platoons stress opponents’ preparation

Willie Cauley-Stein said Kentucky’s platoon system complicates an opponent’s preparation.
“You’re not preparing for one team,” he said after UK beat Grand Canyon Friday night. “You’re preparing for two, and almost three when you put Derek Willis and Dominique (Hawkins) in the mix.”
Each of UK’s platoons plays differently on offense and defense. He stressed the differences on defense.
“It’s going to be hard for teams to get into an offensive rhythm because every five minutes we’re changing out a defense,” he said.
Grand Canyon made only 31.3 percent of its shots.

Cal: Physical opponents will be ‘an issue for us’

After Kentucky beat Grand Canyon 85-45 in the season’s opener Friday, Coach John Calipari saw a warning sign: Grand Canyon took the initiate at times in the second half.
“It got physical and it became a little bit of a fight,” Calipari said. “We had guys not be able to make plays. They walked, missed one-footers when things got physical.
“That’s going to be an issue for us.”
Calipari acknowledged that a dominant first half and a 43-16 lead at intermission made maintaining intensity difficult.
“It’s hard when you’re up 25 or 30 to just keep doing it,” he said. “And you’re playing against a team that is good.”
Grand Canyon took the initiative by spreading the floor and creating driving lanes.
“They were more physical than us,” Calipari said. “We started fouling because they were getting by us.”
Calipari welcomed the second half as a teaching tool.
“The biggest thing is the fist fight, the battle,” he said. “I’m not giving you an inch. If you want it, you’re going to have to take it. . . .
“This is going to be a process just like last year was a process.”

Cal: Amid hype, UK team needs adversity ‘so bad’

With the start of the 2014-15 season at hand, Kentucky Coach John Calipari noted how his celebrated players need to be tested.
“We need adversity so bad,” he said Thursday. “We need to get hit in the mouth as soon as we can. We need to be down 10, and let’s figure out what we are.
“We need to get these freshmen into heated games where a basket matters. Can you make baskets now? Can you make fouls? We don’t know till we get some adversity.”
Kentucky, the pre-season No. 1 team in the nation, is not expected such a test in Friday night’s opener against Grand Canyon. Nor is UK’s second game, against Buffalo on Sunday, expected to be a possession-by-possession competition down the stretch.
In meeting with reporters on the eve of the season, Calipari returned to a familiar theme of previous early Novembers: It’s a process. The Cats might stumble.
“All the type doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’ve got to do it on the court.”
Calipari did not say individual UK players were over-rated. But he hinted as much while saying a collective effort can achieve great things.
In a brief interlude when he provided both questions and answers, Calipari said:
“Do we have, like, five Anthony Davises? Absolutely not. We have not one John Wall. Not one.
“But we’re really good players who are not that far apart from each other (who) try to play together, and doing pretty good.”
Calipari said his immediate concern is that players improve individually. An awkward, but easily decipherable comment, he said:
“If each individual gets better, our ceiling as a team grows.”

UK: Tickets available for Grand Canyon, Buffalo basketball games

A limited number of tickets are available for this weekend’s games against Grand Canyon (Friday) and Buffalo (Sunday), Kentucky announced Monday afternoon.

Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or the Rupp Arena box office at (859) 233-3535. UK’s ticket office also has tickets (1-800-928-2287).

Cal: I’ll evaluate platoons after 10 or 12 games

After Kentucky steam-rolled Georgetown College 121-52 Sunday to complete exhibition play, Coach John Calipari said he would evaluate the platoon system a month or so into the season.
“After 10 or 12 games, I’ll evaluate if we need to tweak anything,” he said. “Is this the best way we can play to go compete for the whole thing? And that’s what my job is: to evaluate that and figure it out.”
UK played the same platoons against Georgetown as in the exhibition season opener the weekend before against Pikeville. The starters were Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns. The second platoon had Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson.
No UK player played even 20 minutes. Cauley-Stein and Ulis led the way with 19 minutes each.
When asked whether he was comfortable with the platoons as constituted, Calipari said, “You know, I’m comfortable.”
Calipari emphasized that the UK staff must ponder which five players it wants on the floor in the final minutes of a close game. With an average margin of victory of 58.5 points, the exhibitions failed to give Kentucky a chance to test its players under possession-by-possession pressure.
“I’ve asked each staff member to give me a finishing five that we would want to finish off a game with,” Calipari said. “Would it be that veteran team with Karl (Anthony Towns)? Or would there be a substitution or two in there? And what would that be?
“And I’ve asked them to give me their opinions. I have my own. But I want to hear what they’re saying.”