SEC Tournament: UK grinds out win over UGA, Harrison twins peaking

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John Calipari has a special relationship with his guards. Since the ball is always in their hands, guards are Calipari’s extension on the court, and it is difficult to separate Calipari from Dajuan Wagner, Darius Washington Jr., Derrick Rose, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, and now, Andrew and Aaron Harrison. The Harrison twins have suffered the normal inconsistencies of any freshman, but because they represent the Big Blue, and entered college with the hype usually reserved for the Dalai Lama, every bad game has been dissected and analyzed. But the brotherly backcourt is currently peaking, playing arguably the best combined basketball of the season, and their efforts were crucial in helping UK outlast Georgia, 70-58, in the SEC semifinal.

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UGA was initially able to keep the contest close thanks to a combination of inverted offense and switching defenses, but Kentucky’s athleticism took over in the second half. An element of John Calipari’s fabled ‘tweak’ appears to be allowing Julius Randle to go one-on-one when the shot clock dwindles, and the big recorded his 20th double-double versus the Bulldogs, and is now tied with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis for most ever by a Wildcat frosh.

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Another aspect of the tweak has to be the play of Andrew Harrison. The guard spent much of the regular season driving the interior and seeking out contact to get to the stripe, but during the past two games, Harrison has been searching for teammates, not fouls, when he reaches the interior. The frosh now has 17 assists and only six turnovers through two SEC games. His brother, Aaron, hasn’t let Andrew soak up the statistical spotlight: the guard led the team against UGA, scoring 22 points, and is making 50 percent of his field goals in SEC tourney play.

Now UK will face off against Florida, a team that has defeated them twice already this season. UK’s young backcourt hasn’t fared well when matched up with the Gators, but the simplification of UK’s offense seems to have sparked something in both Harrisons. Rather than overcomplicate their game, and try to force the offense, the twins are using their athleticism, picking their spots to display those talents, and relying on an abundance of talented teammates. Even though Kentucky played Florida just last Saturday, this UK team has changed, and it is because of the relationship, trust, and confidence Calipari has in the twins to lead the squad.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.