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November 10, 2011

Little things mean a lot for Cats

John Calipari is going to find something wrong, some nit to pick.

It's what he does. And so forget that the Kentucky basketball coach - whose team opens regular-season play Friday night against Marist - is coming off an 85-point exhibition win against Morehouse College.

Calipari still found an opportunity to right some wrongs this week as No. 2 Kentucky prepared to raise the curtain for real on the 2011-12 season.

"He found people out of position sometimes or missed rebounds, things like that," point guard Marquis Teague said. "You know he's got to find something. Coaches have to say something, so he found some things.

"We were like, 'We won by 85.' But it still matters. You've still got to do everything right."

Two years ago, Calipari's first Kentucky team preached perfection. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins opened the season openly discussing the possibility of an undefeated season.

For these Cats, it's less about perfection than perfectionism.

Calipari wants to stress that the tiniest details add up to the biggest wins.

"He just picked on the little things," forward Anthony Davis said. "He just wants us to get better, and he knows that we're a great group of a guys and a very talented group of guys, so he's just picking on little things like running the floor, spacing out the floor, running wide, rebounding, blocking out."

Calipari wants to see more of the same when the Cats open regular-season play Friday night against Marist.

"We started right (against Morehouse)," Calipari said. "We didn't start shooting all threes, which we did the game before (against Transylvania). The intensity level, team defense, was terrific, and we ran wide, which made the game easier. When we did have opportunities to execute, we did. Went to the bench, guys did their thing."

It wasn't a perfect performance, but it wasn't far off.

Still, two exhibition wins - even if they come by a collective 129 points - aren't enough to convince Calipari that his team is ready for prime time.

"I'm fine with where we are," Calipari said. "It's who we're going to have to play. Everybody doesn't want to accept when I said it's going to be hard. We just talked today: What if we want to massage the ball? We haven't done it yet. What do we do late shot clock if it's winding down? How do we get a three? I mean, we just put in out of bounds plays. Other teams are way, way ahead of us. Way ahead of us.

"And I'm still sticking by there's 60, 70, 80 teams that could beat us. Now, I will say this: The way we played against Morehouse, it would be hard for them. Because it wasn't just Morehouse. It's how we played."

It won't be as easy to do that against Division I competition, which begins tonight with Marist and heats up next week with a Tuesday tilt against Kansas at Madison Square Garden.

Calipari admitted on Thursday he wasn't yet well-versed in Marist, coached by Chuck Martin, who served as an assistant to Calipari at Memphis. The Red Foxes will run some of Calipari's trademark dribble-drive motion offense.

They'll mix up defenses, Calipari said, shifting between man-to-man and zone.

And they'll probably be outmatched. But they'll probably be a tougher test than was Morehouse.

The Wildcats are aware of that. They're trying to stay grounded even in the wake of a mostly criticism-free 85-point rout.

"You have to, because once someone gets big-headed because they won by a big amount, it can really change the complexion of the season," Davis said. "You're playing against these other schools and if you think, 'OK, well, we won by 85, so we're the best,' it can really bring down a team and you can lose in big games."


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