Notebook: After asking to start, Harrow forced himself to deliver

Ryan Harrow’s palms were sweating. He had just called his mom. His teammates had to prod him in a players-only meeting just to do it.

But Harrow, after coming off the bench and contributing very little over the previous two games, knew he had to step up and tell John Calipari he needed to start for the Wildcats to hit their full potential after losing Nerlens Noel for the rest of the season.

“I just felt like I needed to go to Coach Cal and tell him I was going to do whatever he needed me to do just so I could be out there to play,” Harrow said.

It seems crazy to believe that Harrow was worried to speak to someone who he interacts with for hours every day, but Harrow was a nervous wreck.

“When people were trying to give me high-fives, I had to wipe my pants first and give them high-fives,” Harrow said. “When I got in there, we were able to talk and he listened to what I had to say and then he had the answers for me already.”

The answer was OK.

“I said, “OK, you’ve got a responsibility, though, if you’re going to start,’ ” Calipari said. “We talked about it. And you know, any time guys come at me with stuff like that, it’s easy for me because it takes it off my plate. Now it’s on their plate.”

And Harrow definitely filled his plate during the Cats home game against Vandy.

Ryan Harrow broke a two-game scoreless stretch with 12 points and four assists. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

In Kentucky’s 74-70 win over Vanderbilt, Harrow scored 12 points, dished out four assists and didn’t turn it over once. In his previous two games, he posted combined totals of zero points and one assist. His performance in Noel’s season-ending game at Florida was so poor that Coach Cal brought him off the bench at Tennessee for the first time since the Portland game on Dec. 8.

Harrow, though, knows his team’s success is tied to him, and vice versa, so he sucked up his the butterflies and went and talked to Calipari.

That was a big step for Ryan,” freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. “We need him to be more vocal like that; get it within himself and express how he feels to coach. It’s all about growing up and starting to be a man like that. That’s what they express to us every day.”

Calipari had previously said that their guard play was “shaky at best,” but the Cats managed to open up the court and play well on Wednesday night, a performance that was directly affected by Harrow’s play.

“Just more aggressive,” Harrow said. “(Coach) told me he needed me to take shots, because when I’m aggressive everybody else is aggressive and the flow of the game is better.”

The result was notably more in-tune guard play. Kentucky, which had zero fast-break points in the loss in Knoxville, Tenn., had 12 Wednesday. The Cats’ trio of Harrow, Archie Goodwin and Julius Mays combined for 13 assists. The entire team had just seven turnovers.

“He got to the rim,” Calipari said of Harrow. “He played strong. I thought he (played) pick?and?rolls and did a good job. He was terrific. … And you know, he needs to play more confident, and he did today.”

Harrow wasn’t the only guard who stepped up. Mays squeaked out a couple key 3-pointers, including a critical shot-clock-beating trey with 3:23 to go when Vanderbilt had trimmed UK’s lead to two points.

“He’s defending, he’s passionate, he’s showing leadership,” Coach Cal said. “And if he makes shots, whew. And if he doesn’t make shots, it’s easy to leave him on the court.”

Following suit, Goodwin posted 16 points, three assists and six rebounds, as well as a noticeably more calm performance on the court. Goodwin said that he thought he played well because he slowed down and analyzed plays instead of rushing forward.

“It seemed a lot easier to me because I slowed down and actually analyzed what was going on and how they were playing, and so when I do that, I feel like a lot of things go a lot easier for me and I’ll be able to make the right play,” Goodwin said.

UK’s guards will have to have a similar performance against Missouri if they hope to match Phil Pressey and Co.

“We have a challenge with Missouri,” Calipari said. “Their guards are really good. Well, our guards are going to have to be really good to have a chance to win the game. We have to be really good.”

New season, new story, new intro

Coach Cal had described the rest of the year without Noel as a new season. He said the Cats had a new story they could write.

With a new season to be played  and a new story to write, it was only fitting that Kentucky came out to a new intro video Wednesday night before playing Vanderbilt. The new intro video, titled “Let’s Fight,” replaced the previous “Glitch Mob Remix” that featured a number of highlights of Noel.

“We’re missing a key person,” Goodwin said. “This is just another road block that was in our way and we feel like that was another way of us showing that we’re turning over a new leaf, starting over like it was the beginning of the season for us.

In the video, the UK players say that tonight is the biggest game on their schedule and that they are going to fight. It closes with a short, powerful clip of Noel saying “Let’s fight like Wildcats!”

“It was a great video,” Goodwin said. “I actually liked it better than the last one, but it was just a video about motivation, and we all liked it.”

Not everyone liked doing it though.

“I just got out of class an hour before that and I was fresh off a nap and I was just like, ‘Man, are you serious?’ ” Cauley-Stein said. ” ‘I gotta try to do this with emotion? You can’t catch me after I wake up?’ I felt like I was goofy when I was doing it.”

That feeling quickly evaporated when Cauley-Stein saw the finished product on the video screens at Rupp Arena and heard the roar of 22,287 fans.

“Our video guys, they’re good at what they do because, honestly, I got so excited after we saw it,” Cauley-Stein said. “I started like tearing up I was so excited.”

The idea for the video was concocted the day before the game in an external operations meeting with some of UK’s administration at staff. After drawing out some ideas on a whiteboard, the video staff went to work and filmed a line with each of the players before Tuesday’s practice.

The theme was simple, but it was a powerful and fitting message for the rest of the season.

“It is,” Harrow said. “Every game is our biggest game on the schedule, I think, because we need to finish the season off and make a statement against all the rest of the teams that we have.”

Cauley-Stein a five-tool athlete

As a kid, Cauley-Stein played both basketball and football.

And tennis.

And baseball.

And probably just about any other sport one can think of.

On Tuesday, the Cats found out he plays a mean game of dodgeball as well. In the Cats’ now much-publicized game of dodgeball on Tuesday that Calipari used to lighten the mood of the team (watch the video here), Coach Cal said Cauley-Stein could ball.

“I got a heater,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m not going to lie. I can throw the ball. It was fun. I think at the little (Lexington) Legends’ game, they have a little pitching thing there to show you how fast you are, and I was like at the top of the little ladder thing that they post of the speeds. I was like at 80-something.”

Cauley-Stein proved on Wednesday night that he can ball on the basketball court as well, scoring a season-high 20 points to go along with seven rebounds, three blocks and a steal.

It begs the question, what sport is the 7-foot forward not good at?

“Croquet maybe,” Cauley-Stein said. “Cricket.”