Andrew Harrison had 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists in UK’s win at Vanderbilt on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With the break between the fall and spring semesters nearing its end and Southeastern Conference play just getting started, John Calipari has to be easing off the throttle at “Camp Cal,” right?Not just yet.Ahead of a trip to Vanderbilt on Saturday, Kentucky scrapped its normal routine of taking a day off after a game.”We practiced the day after the Mississippi State game,” Calipari said. “They came in and couldn’t believe we practiced. What do you have to do? We only went an hour. And then when they got going, we went.”No. 14/16 UK (12-3, 2-0 SEC) parlayed that intense practice schedule into a 71-62 win in Memorial Coliseum. It was far from a work of art — victories at Vandy (8-6, 0-2 SEC) rarely are — as the Wildcats shot just 26 of 61 (42.6 percent) from the field, but UK’s 41-28 rebounding edge and Willie Cauley-Stein’s 15 points and six rebounds were enough.”I told them, ‘You prepared to win this game,’ ” Calipari said.Kentucky’s preparation took a somewhat unexpected turn this week in the wake of another slow start against Mississippi State. The Cats, with all their length and athleticism, would seem to be best-suited for a fast-paced game, but Calipari opted to forgo a focus on transition.”Coach was just saying we start off real sluggish in the beginning so we’re just going to start off by grinding it out instead of trying to fly up and down and let the game come to us and then start running, and that’s what we did,” Cauley-Stein said.As is to be expected with a team as young as this one there were hiccups in executing that game plan, but the Cats overcame their penchant for stumbling out of the gates, took an early lead and held it from the 14:50 mark onward.”I think we played really good as a team, and that’s been one of the biggest things this year is, the word is we’re not a good team and we’ve got selfish guys,” Cauley-Stein said. “The last couple days in practice we’ve been getting closer, basketball wise as a team, and in the game it just showed that we really do got each other’s back and we really do got good guys.”Never before has Andrew Harrison’s importance to that been clearer.The freshman point guard has had better scoring days — he had 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting — but he heeded Calipari’s most important piece of coaching.”What he did was what I was asking him to do,” Calipari said. “Get rid of the ball. Get us running. When you get it back, attack. Do not hold the ball. Don’t be a ball-stopper. No one in the country wants to play with a ball-stopper. You have a play to make, make it. If you don’t, get rid of it. He did that today, he really did.”He had four assists and just one turnover, leading a UK offense that had just 10 giveaways all afternoon. Harrison added a career-high-tying eight rebounds as the Cats had 18 offensive rebounds to Vandy’s five and a 15-5 edge in second-chance points.Harrison, as Calipari point guards often are, has been a lightning rod for criticism for much of the season and made his share of mistakes, to be sure, but he is beginning to find a rhythm. In fact, Coach Cal is reminded of one of his former pupils when he watches Harrison: Tyreke Evans.”Both of them had habits that you had to crack,” Calipari said. “Both of them had a mentality of how to play the game that was kind of opposite of the way it needed to be.”That mentality is beginning to change.”And now when you begin to see him thinking differently and playing a little different, you’re seeing a guy with that kind of size, can make shots, can make free throws, is a good passer and handler, has great speed,” Calipari said.Harrison has never had a reputation as a burner, and neither did Evans. But as he gets a handle on the line between pushing in transition and grinding it out, his speed is coming to the surface, just as it did for Evans.”Tyreke Evans, because he wouldn’t run, when he really started running his grandmother came to a game and said, ‘Coach, I didn’t know he was that fast,’ ” Calipari said. “His grandmother, who had seen him run his whole life, never saw him run that fast. Well he just never did it. And Andrew’s the same way. I mean, he’s really fast. He’s fast. Just doesn’t run it that way all the time.”So, will Calipari let Harrison slow it down in practice as the Cats prepare for another tough road trip to Arkansas on Tuesday? Not so much.”Now we’re going home, we’re practicing an hour tomorrow and then we’re going to practice an hour and a half before we leave to go to Arkansas,” Calipari said.