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UK coach John Calipari focused on his own squad during rare six-day layoff

Kentucky coach John Calipari and the Wildcats return from a six-day layoff and will take on Harvard Saturday at Rupp Arena. (UK Athletics Photo)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

John Calipari hasn’t had much time to prepare for Harvard. Although Kentucky got a rare break after playing seven games in a 17-day span, Calipari took the time to get to know his team better.

“We’re probably experimenting a little bit more than just preparing for the next game,” the Kentucky coach said earlier this week. “We’re trying different things, both on defensive and offensively. Trying. The amazing thing is that we’re an efficient team being this young, which is surprising. We still turn it over too much. We don’t rebound as well as we really should, so we’ve zeroed in on that some.”

Calipari believes the Wildcats have the tools in place to become a solid defensive squad as the season progresses.

“I’m encouraged that if we choose to be a great defensive team we can,” Calipari said. “And if you look at any other young teams in the country that are trying to win at a high level, they’re just trying to out-score people because they’re not great defensive teams. They’re just not. We’re trying to do it the other way. Let’s be a great defensive team. Let’s be a great rebounding team. And then we’re not forced to have to out-score people.

The seventh-ranked Wildcats (6-1) return from the six-day layoff Saturday and will take on the Crimson in the first-ever meeting against the Ivy League program. Harvard (3-5) is coming off a 77-61 loss to Northeastern Thursday night. Even though Tommy Amaker’s squad has lost two straight, the Crimson defeated UMass and Saint Joseph’s earlier this season.

Calipari compared Harvard to Vermont, which led the Wildcats by double digits before Kentucky escaped with 73-69 victory in the second game of the season.

“They have great post play,” the Kentucky coach said. “Again, just like Vermont – the other teams that we’ve had that have had good post play. They really explore it. They’ll play fast. Their point guard has a green light to go and he can get in the lane. They deny wings. They make catches on the elbows hard. So, again, with a young team – the least team did that and we had to work on getting open.

“Knowing how (to get open) when a guy is face guarding you. They didn’t know any of that. We had to spend a couple of days – now we’re just addressing it again and saying this is how they’re going to play. Tommy (Amaker) – he’s as good as they get. He has a great way about how he coaches and how he gets his teams to play well.”

Harvard guard Bryce Aiken is among the team’s most proficient scorers and tallied a career-high 30 points in a 70-67 overtime win over the Minutemen earlier this season. Aiken poured in 26 points in his previous outing.

“They’ve got a couple players on this team that could’ve gone other places – couple of them could’ve gone SEC – they just chose to go to Harvard,” Calipari said. “That game’s not easy. We’ll see.”

Vanderbilt update: Kentucky freshman Jarred Vanderbilt has been doing individual workouts, but Calipari said there’s no guarantee the freshman forward would play this season.

“It’s not going to be my call, it’ll be his,” the Kentucky coach said. “He’s doing individual work right now. He’s not started practicing. We’ll let it play out and if he thinks it’s good for him to play, then he will play.”

Vanderbilt is recovering from a foot injury he suffered during the first week of practice.

Gametracker: Harvard at Kentucky, 3:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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