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January 3, 2012

Davis plays big, but Cats come up small in rout

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - His team had just finished steamrolling Arkansas-Little Rock in the second half after sputtering in the first, and Kentucky coach John Calipari was set to watch the game once more.

But only once.

Before he boarded a Lexington-bound bus from Freedom Hall Tuesday night, Calipari said he'd take only a quick look at his No. 2 Kentucky's often-ugly 73-51 win against the Trojans.

"I'll watch the tape on the drive home just to get rid of it, because I don't want to see it," Calipari said. "I want to just get it done as quickly as I can. The first 40 minutes will be that tape, then I'll throw it out the window."

Nobody could blame him. The Wildcats (14-1) won comfortably, but it wasn't much to look at. UK trailed 30-27 at halftime after shooting 39.3 percent and committing 13 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

The Trojans (5-11) were playing without 6-foot-10 leading scorer Will Neighbour - "If the big kid that got hurt was here, we probably get beat," Calipari said - but managed to lead most of the first half, committing three turnovers and shooting 4-for-10 from three-point range in the game's first 20 minutes.

"They had more energy and more intensity and more toughness than us," UK freshman Anthony Davis said.

The second half played out predictably, and Davis led the charge. He finished the game with 22 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots to win the game's Most Valuable Player award presented by the Jefferson County Alumni Association.

But though the Cats blew open the game - they used a 23-1 run to turn a 34-31 deficit into a 54-35 lead - the game left Calipari and his players with questions heading into Saturday's Southeastern Conference opener against South Carolina at Rupp Arena.

There's the uncertain health of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, for starters. The freshman forward had nine points and 10 rebounds against Little Rock but shot 3-for-7 and played, Calipari revealed after the game, with a chest injury that the coach said might be a pulled muscle.

There's also the mystery of Marquis Teague, the freshman point guard who's still struggling to find his way in Calipari's dribble-drive motion offense. Teague had six points and five assists, but he shot 2-for-7, and 14 of the 23 points in that game-changing run game with him on the bench in foul trouble.

"I have to watch the tape," Calipari said. "Obviously without him on the court we played better. There's no argument there, but he has to play well for us to win. We know that."

And there's the curious case of the Cats' intensity, or lack thereof. Calipari's team wavers in its want-to from game to game and half to half. Senior Darius Miller said UK can't blame its first-half no-show on the energy it expended in a rivalry win against Louisville.

"We came out (against Little Rock), we had no intensity and we were very sluggish, the whole team," Miller said. "We've got to do a better job of coming out and taking care of business from the beginning."

Davis helped the Cats keep the game close in the first half, scoring six points and grabbing eight rebounds, but he - like most of his teammates - was even more effective in the second after a talking-to from Calipari.

Asked in what tone of voice Calipari delivered his halftime speech, Davis smiled and said, "I think that's clear. Yeah, he was very angry with us."

Calipari said he didn't raise his voice much. But he didn't deny his frustration with his team's lackadaisical first half.

"We're going to turn it over some, but we're not going to get beat to balls, and we're playing, and we're not acting cool," Calipari said. "We're going to fly up and down that court, we're going to be in great condition, and then I enjoy coaching. And yeah, you miss shots and you turn it over some and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That's basketball. But the other stuff kind of aggravates you."

So while Calipari didn't plan to take a long look at Tuesday's win, he also didn't intend to entirely gloss over the game.

"People watch us play and say, 'Your team plays hard and they compete,'" Calipari said. "We do, but this team has about… 40 percent they can grow. I'm not going to back up off 'em."


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