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November 15, 2011

Cats pick up pace, pull away from KU

NEW YORK - The halfcourt offense is a work in progress. The freshman jitters remain a reality. Late-game situations? They could use some fine-tuning. And the free-throw shooting is a wreck.

Other than that, No. 2 Kentucky's trip to Madison Square Garden wasn't so bad.

John Calipari's team sputtered in the first half but stepped on the gas in the second Tuesday night to pull away from No. 12 Kansas 75-65 in the Champions Classic, showing glimpses of overwhelming talent.

"This is not a good team yet," Calipari said. "We're not bad, but we're not a good team yet."

Kentucky (2-0) certainly didn't look like one during a first half in which it shot 38.5 percent, committed 12 turnovers and had to rally from deficits of 10-3 and 21-14 to tie the score at 28-28 by halftime.

"I kind of expected what happened in the first half," Calipari said. "A bunch of young guys out there trying to play, do their own thing, breaking off plays. We had four assists. My point guard (Marquis Teague) has six (turnovers). He said it was the officials."

In the second half, the Cats settled down. They outscored the Jayhawks 47-37 after halftime, shooting 64 percent while holding Kansas to 33.9 percent. UK outscored KU 10-2 on fast break points after halftime.

UK had eight of its 13 blocked shots in the second half, and it turned many of those stops into transition opportunities, leading to layups and dunks.

"They're good enough offensively that they can score points," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "They just can't get the easy ones, because if they get easy baskets, you're not going to be able to match their easy baskets, because of their length."

Self said Kentucky has "a chance to have a special, special team," but the Cats looked flawed for long stretches on Tuesday.

"Did they even look coached in the first half?" Calipari said. "I heard somebody yell… 'Geez, run a play! Coach, run something!' I was ready to say, 'You tell 'em! I'm trying to tell 'em! They're not listening to me!'"

Teague was sloppy with the ball. UK missed 13 free throws. Given an opportunity to pull away, the Cats let Kansas hang around and cut a 17-point deficit to nine in the final minute.

Kentucky also has a host of weapons.

Doron Lamb settled down after a slow start and led the Widlcats with 17 points. He made three three-pointers during the second half, helping Kentucky stretch its lead to as many as 17.

Still, for all their faults, the Cats were scarcely threatened in the second half.

"Their best offense for a long period of time was our offense," Self said. "Our bad shots and turnovers led to run-outs, dunks and easy baskets that you have a hard time defending. I really think that we helped them, but they were also a lot better the second half than the first half."

UK shared the ball in the second half, and the result was that it spread the offensive wealth.

Lamb was one of five Cats in double-digit scoring - Terrence Jones added 15 points and seven rebounds, Anthony Davis 14 points, six rebounds and seven blocks, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists and Marquis Teague 12 points.

Ten of UK's 14 assists came in the second half.

"First half, we didn't pass the ball that much," Lamb said. "Second half we did, so we had a big run in the second half that closed the game out. We've got to keep learning how to play with (the freshmen) and it'll come together soon."

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