Kentucky bench to get a last look
Posted: Monday, January 3, 2011 4:47 pm
By: By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari went to a Final Four once using six players, guiding Massachusetts to an NCAA Tournament regional title by relying on a talented but thin group led by center Marcus Camby.
He’d rather not have to try and do it again.
Though Calipari is very pleased with the way the starters and sixth man Doron Lamb are gelling, he’d like for some of his little-used reserves to become more regular contributors.
Players like Jon Hood, Eloy Vargas and Stacey Poole have failed to earn regular playing time this season.
Vargas played two minutes in a 78-63 win over Louisville on Friday, Hood played one minute while Poole never made it to the scorer’s table to check in.
The trio will likely get one last chance to impress Calipari tonight when the 11th-ranked Wildcats (11-2) host Penn (5-5) at Rupp Arena.
It’s Kentucky’s final game before Southeastern Conference play begins and Calipari will likely stick to a six-man rotation if he doesn’t like what he’s seeing from the players on the deep end of the Wildcat bench.
“I’ve got to get some of the other guys, don’t care about shooting and scoring just do some of the other things,” Calipari said of his bench.
It’s what saved the careers of junior guard DeAndre Liggins and senior center Josh Harrellson.
Calipari says he was told to “get rid” of Liggins when he took the job two years ago and has spent 18 months trying to get Harrellson to buy into his program.
All the two did against the Cardinals was put together the performances of their lives.
Calipari called Liggins the difference in the game after he spent 39 minutes harassing Louisville’s backcourt, finishing with four steals, two block and four rebounds.
Harrellson was spectacular, taking advantage when the Cardinals double-teamed Terrence Jones to score 23 points and grab 14 rebounds while serving as one of the most unlikely heroes in history of the storied rivalry.
“What he has shown me is that every kid deserves everything we have to help them get better,” Calipari said. “I told a couple other players on the team who haven’t been playing particularly well that that is our job as coaches.”
Liggins did what he’s always done: the dirty work.
He used his 6-foot-6 frame to overwhelm Louisville’s smaller guards, shutting down Peyton Siva then cooling off Preston Knowles after Knowles tried to spearhead a second-half comeback.
“I was just so intense and enthused about that game that it really didn’t matter who I was guarding,” Liggins said. “I just tried to make it hard for my opponents.”
It was the kind of effort Calipari would like to see in brief spurts from Hood or Vargas.
Hood hasn’t played more than 14 minutes in a game all year and has had trouble with his shot, making just 32 percent of his attempts this season at Kentucky.
Hood, Vargas and Poole have played most extensively in blowout victories, but they haven’t exactly grabbed Calipari’s attention.
Asked after a 30-point romp over Coppin State last week if he thought any player in the trio was starting to make inroads into the rotation and Calipari shrugged his shoulders in response.
“If they play well you leave them in,” he said. “If they’re not playing well or they’re tentative or not talking or whatever or they can’t come up with balls or the guy they’re guarding is scoring baskets, you play with six.”
The Kentucky men’s team opens the SEC portion of its schedule on Saturday afternoon at Georgia.