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November 16, 2012

Noel's hustle plays spark UK's 101-49 rout

It might seem like Nerlens Noel has limitless energy, might appear as though the Kentucky freshman never tires of chasing loose balls and diving on the floor.

Given the ferocity with which Noel plays every game - including No. 3 Kentucky's 101-49 win against Lafayette Friday night at Rupp Arena - it's an easy assumption to make.

In truth, though, even Noel's energy has its limits.

Like when there aren't games, for example.

"It's not as high (in practice)," Noel said Friday. "I'm trying to do it so I don't kill myself."

Short of that, there's not much Noel won't do to corral a ball. He'll go up high for a rebound. He'll hit the deck for a steal. And though he's put that hustle on display through his first three college games, it's nothing new.

"I've always been on the floor," Noel said. "It's the only way you're going to get that ball."

There were times Friday night when Noel's Kentucky teammates followed his example. Their high-energy approach helped UK (2-1) force 28 Lafayette turnovers, off which the Wildcats scored 39 points.

But UK coach John Calipari wants more of that. He wants more of his players to follow Noel's all-out, all-the-time lead. And though it didn't always happen Friday night, it's going to happen eventually. Calipari's certain of that.

"I told Nerlens just keep doing it, and they'll get it," Calipari said Friday. "Because it becomes embarrassing when he's diving and you're jogging or you're standing straight up and get beat on the back door, and this kid's diving on the floor."

Calipari wasn't always thrilled with his team's effort against Lafayette, particularly at the defensive end. Though the Leopards were playing without their best player - forward Dan Trist sprained his ankle during Friday's shootaround - they trailed only 13-10 with 16:27 to play in the first half.

That was despite Kentucky making all five of its shots to that point.

"You made every shot," Calipari said. "It should be 15 4, 15 2, 15 3."

It didn't take long for the Wildcats to find a margin more to his liking. A 24-2 run put the Wildcats in front 37-12. In the second half, Kentucky had a 39-2 run capped by a Twany Beckham layup that put the Cats up 101-41.

"I don't know what to say," Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon said. "Obviously the roof kind of caved in on us."

Kentucky shot 64.5 percent for the game, the highest mark in the Calipari era and the highest since the Cats shot 68.8 percent against Kansas State in 2008. UK also set highs for a Calipari team in turnovers forced with 28.

Kyle Wiltjer had 23 points and made 7-of-11 three-pointers, part of an 11-for-19 night for the Wildcats from behind the arc.

Still, as is so often the case in early season blowouts, Calipari professed himself not entirely satisfied. Though he admitted the Wildcats are "getting better," as evidenced by the offensive execution against a zone defense UK practiced against on Thursday, he still wants more.

He wants more consistent effort from Wiltjer. He wants more energy from Alex Poythress, despite his 22-point, five-rebound performance Friday on 9-for-10 shooting.

Mostly, he wants his players to ask What Would Nerlens Do?

"The thing I'm telling our guys, the energy that Nerlens (Noel) plays with, if I can get all my guys playing with that kind of energy, think about what we'd become as a team," Calipari said. "Now we're aware of the vision I have with us."

And Noel is happy to play his part in making that vision come true.

The 6-foot-10 freshman said he often goes into huddles with words for his teammates. If they need encouragement, he offers it. If they need to push harder, he'll say that, too.

"If they made a good play, I'll definitely tell them I made a good play and tell them they made a good play and just really tell them they got to keep doing that, keep going to that," Noel said. "Just anything in the moment that really feels necessary to say."

That rubs off on teammates, Wiltjer said, in much the same way Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's motor did a year ago.

"(Noel) wants to win so bad and he's diving on the floor," Wiltjer said. "He's a great hustle player. Not only is he blocking shots, (he) does other things; he gets steals like that. If we can just really play with that intensity, we can be a great defensive team, because he's pretty much flying all over the place out there."

And Noel sees the potential for these Cats to follow his tenacious lead.

"Sky's the limit," Noel said. "They can play real hard. You've just got to get into them a little bit, and I feel like it's not going to be long before they really start clicking. Definitely there are spurts when they play real hard."


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