Notebook: Breaking old habits key to Harrow’s improvement

They say old habits die hard.

Perhaps that’s why it’s unreasonable to expect Ryan Harrow to avoid moments of lapses and returns to the “cool guy” Harrow that John Calipari doesn’t want on his basketball court.

Harrow has transformed to a different player over the last month. He’s consistently played under control, made the easy plays and taken care of the ball.

“I’m more than pleased,” Calipari said Wednesday night after Kentucky’s 90-38 thrashing of Eastern Michigan.

But as Coach Cal warned after the game, everything the Cats do is a process. There will be steps forward and steps back.

Harrow continued to make steps forward with a 15-point, eight-assist, four-steal game, but for the first time this year, he turned the ball over more than Calipari would like. After turning the ball over just five times in 186 minutes, he had four miscues Wednesday night in 28 minutes.

Two of them in particular irked Calipari, especially a sequence in the second half where Harrow dribbled it behind his back and then between his legs, found himself in a trap near the baseline, and then threw it away trying to pass it to Archie Goodwin.

The turnover resulted in a spot on the bench.

“Why did you do that?” Calipari asked him. “And then go between the legs. That’s the old kid that used to play but wasn’t very good. The new one is not turning it over. He’s strong with the ball. He’s aggressive.”

The new Harrow is averaging 15.0 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 49.2 percent from the field over his last five games.

So why the sudden lapses Wednesday night, albeit brief?

“It’s just a habit,” Harrow said. “Those moves, like when I put it between my legs and behind my back, it’s like my body just did it itself. …  It’s just an impulse. That’s what I’ve always been able to do.”

Calipari used to chide Harrow for trying to make too many flashy plays. He described them as “And1 Mixtape” plays.

Harrow said he hasn’t heard Calipari use that description with him anymore because he’s playing under control. He said he would rather not hear it for the rest of the year.

“This is where I thought he’d be at the beginning of the year,” Calipari said. “Now where do we go from here? He’s got to continue to grow. He’s got to continue to get better. No lapses. When we’re in our league, we’re going to be playing games. We can’t afford lapses, especially by our point guard.”

Mays busts out of shooting slump

Julius Mays has been around the college game a long time, so the shooting slump he was in recently was nothing to new to him.

But he’d by lying if he said it wasn’t getting to him just a little bit.

“I’ve been down on myself a little lately because I haven’t been hitting shots, so to see some go in felt good,” Mays said.

Mays hit 3-of-7 shots Wednesday, all of them from behind the arc. Coming into the game, Mays was mired in a 3-for-23 slump from the field. Mays said the only way to get out of the slump was to keep shooting, which Calipari had no problem with.

Although Mays didn’t start Wednesday for the first time since the season opener, he has continued to play a lot of minutes because of his steadiness in all the other facets of the game.

“Even Julius missing shots, he doesn’t hurt your team,” Calipari said. “He just doesn’t make shots.”

UK hit 10 3-pointers for the second straight game, bumping the Cats’ season 3-pointer percentage up to 37.1.

The Cats have yet to get Mays and Kyle Wiltjer, their two best perimeter shooters, going at the same time, but if they can, things could open up for UK’s inside game.

Cauley-Stein’s stock soaring

Freshman forward Willie Cauley Stein has posted 17 points and 19 rebounds over his last two games. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

For the second straight game, Willie Cauley-Stein showed why many NBA Draft experts suddenly believe he could sneak into the NBA lottery.

Cauley-Stein followed his six-point, eight-rebound outing against Louisville with the second double-double of his career (11 points, 11 rebounds) against EMU. The freshman forward has been particularly good on the boards and on defense lately, averaging 7.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks over his last seven games.

“I think he’s starting to realize that he’s really gifted and he’s talented and the sky’s the limit for the abilities that he has,” Mays said. “Now he’s starting to see, ‘I can compete with the best of the best.’ I think by the end of the season, he’ll be one of the best if not the best.”

If Cauley-Stein can continue to improve on offense, he will be a valuable commodity on defense because of his versatility and his height. Because of his ability to move and guard anyone, Coach Cal has used him as a trap man on the baseline when the Cats press.

“Willie can guard anybody on the perimeter, so with Willie up and us trapping, it’s hard for them to pass the ball,” Harrow said. “And then you’ve got somebody like Archie and Alex (Poythress) anticipating the steal. It’s real good.”

Cauley-Stein was the center of attention for UK’s free-throw struggles against Louisville. Calipari said he’s been in the gym working on the side on his free throws ever since. Calipari said he’s made 400 since the U of L game.

He had just two opportunities at the line Wednesday. After missing the first one and hearing the loud audible groan from the Rupp Arena crowd, Cauley-Stein regrouped and hit the second. It was an important make for a player who admitted that the free-throw misses started to snowball on him at the KFC Yum! Center.

“What I told him before the game is get fouled and go show everybody what you’ve been working on,” Calipari said. “Then I said, ‘If you miss one, it’s OK because you just say to yourself, you don’t make every free throw, but I’m still going to show them what I’ve been working on,’ and it was great that he made it.”

Fan favorite returns

One of the brightest smiles to grace the program under Calipari made his return to Rupp Arena Wednesday when former Cat and current Charlotte Bobcat forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sat courtside.

The only problem is he wasn’t smiling once he saw UK’s brand-new locker room.

“He was really, really angry when he saw the locker room,” Calipari said. “He was smoking. He walked in my office, and he said, ‘This is B.S. What we had last year – look at this!’ ”

The comments, of course, were all in good fun, but Calipari was serious when he raved about having Kidd-Gilchrist back in town. The former Wildcat sat courtside next to Calipari’s wife, Ellen, and his son, Brad. He was brought to midcourt in the second half as UK’s honorary “Y” in the spelling of “Kentucky.”

“He’s such a great kid,” Coach Cal said. “He knew that there was a plane coming from Charlotte. He just said, ‘Hey, can I jump on it?’  And he came in, and they beat Chicago. They practiced today and he comes in to watch the guys play.”

Kidd-Gilchrist made history when he became the second pick of the 2012 NBA Draft with the Charlotte Bobcats. It marked the first time in NBA history the top two picks in the draft came from the same school.

After the game, Kidd-Gilchrist tweeted about the return.

Better second-half start

Kentucky’s sometimes missing energy has been well documented this season, but it’s the most glaring during UK’s start to the second half.

For whatever reason, the Cats had been outscored 115-87 in the first five minutes of the second half this season entering Wednesday night’s game.

Against EMU, with a more intense halftime layup line before the second half started, UK outscored the Eagles 10-0 in the first five minutes (the run ended up going to 15-0). It was only the second half this season the Cats have outscored their opponent in the first five minutes of the second half.

For the record, Kentucky’s best five-minute intervals take place in the second half between the 14:59-10:00 marks (152-93 in the Cats favor) and 9:59-5:00 marks (160-97). With numbers like those, one can assume those early second-half timeouts Calipari calls get the message across.

A young start, even by Cal’s standards

Coach Cal has started some young lineups before, but he’s never started a group quite as young as the one he put on the floor Wednesday.

By re-inserting Poythress back into the starting lineup for Mays, UK started four freshmen and one sophomore Wednesday. Believe it or not, it’s actually the first time Calipari has started four freshmen during his tenure at Kentucky.

UK media relations doesn’t have record of when the last time a Kentucky team started four freshmen, but Jon Scott, who runs the well-researched and extensive Kentucky Basketball Statistics Project website, believes it to be the first time UK had started that many freshmen since the 1940s.

“Just so you know, I don’t know the answer to the question but it looks like there were a number of games in the 1943-44 season when they started 4 freshmen,” Scott wrote. “That was during the war when most of the team were (freshmen) or (sophomores.)”

Update: Scott has done a little more research and believes the last time it happened was March 22, 1944 against St. Johns in a National Invitational Tournament semifinal game. He noted that he is missing a few box scores from that decade.