Little things have big value to Cats

Kentucky coach John Calipari says his team has learned during the course of an often-difficult season that it's the so-called "little things" that can make the biggest difference in winning and losing.

As Kentucky prepares to face its arch-rival in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, the Big Blue Nation is still buzzing about last weekend's victory over previously-undefeated Wichita State in what's being described as one of the best tourney games in recent history.

Coaches will always demand that their players keep their focus on the next game – and only the next game – but John Calipari says the Wildcats can learn a lot from what helped them defeat the top-seeded Shockers.

For starters, the so-called little things.

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"The rebound by Dakari (Johnson) on the missed free throw when we were down four that we scored, and now we're down two and it's anybody's ballgame," Calipari said of a play that he has described as perhaps the most important of that day for the Cats.

It came with 4:11 remaining in the game and Wichita State looking like a team that may not be denied its run at destiny. UK's Aaron Harrison was fouled on a drive to the basket and hit the first free throw to pull the Cats within 69-65. He missed the second shot, but Johnson outworked the Shockers' Darius Carter for position and grabbed the rebound before WSU's Tekele Cotton knocked it out of bounds.

On the ensuing possession, Kentucky's Andrew Harrison was fouled on a drive to the basket and hit two free throws to pull his team within 2.

A game-changing sequence, Calipari said on his weekly radio call-in show, although one that might not work its way onto SportsCenter.

"It put that thing back on their shoulders, and that's when they missed a 3, they missed a layup, all the sudden you turn around and it's ‘Oh my gosh, we're going to win this thing,'" Calipari said. "That's why I say to Dakari, just keep hustling. Every play matters. Every ball matters, and what you're seeing right now is a team that's getting it."

It wasn't the only such play during the "Instant Classic."

Earlier in the second half, with UK trailing by four, Julius Randle tracked down an offensive rebound off a missed 3-pointer by James Young and then grabbed his own miss before converting a three-point play to pull the Cats within one.

A steal and a blocked by Randle on back-to-back defensive possessions widway through the second half ensured the Cats would not fall behind by more than the three points they were at the time.

There was a steal by Willie Cauely-Stein with 3:44 remaining and the Cats trailing 69-67. And two huge defensive rebounds by Young in the final three minutes. Yes, the same Young who got caught flat-footed on a couple of high-profile rebounding situations earlier in the season in losses to Arkansas and Florida.

"The will to win," as Calipari has harped all season long, appears to have come out of the young Wildcats.


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