LEXINGTON, Ky. — Playing with a team-first mentality has been critical to the success of top-ranked Kentucky’s platoon system.
But playing selflessly has also allowed several Wildcats to shine at different points.
Freshman guard Devin Booker has been the only repeat scoring leader for a 7-0 Kentucky squad that has spread the scoring wealth across both platoons. Even 5-foot-9 guard Tyler Ulis, the Wildcats’ smallest player, has led the way.
Kentucky coach John Calipari continues stressing shared sacrifice to the Wildcats, neither he nor his players would be shocked if another scoring leader emerges in Friday’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge game against No. 7 Texas (7-0).
“What you’re finding out is that this doesn’t hurt any players, it’s helping players,” Calipari said on Thursday. “What you have is two really good point guards, size on both teams and they’re starting to figure everybody out.”
“You don’t get the numbers you want or anything like that, but it makes the team better, keeps you fresh and wears the other team out,” said point guard Andrew Harrison, whose team-high 24 assists are just three more than Ulis. “As long as we’re winning, it’s worth it.”
The statistics provide some insight into Kentucky’s success.
Just five points separate scoring leaders Aaron Harrison (10.4 per game) and Booker (10.3) from ninth-best Ulis (5.4). Booker and Ulis are part of the second platoon that typically plays fewer minutes.
Everyone seems to be making the most of the time they get.
The leading scorers in Sunday’s 58-38 win against Providence were Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman Karl-Anthony Towns, who each had 11 points and six rebounds. Six other Wildcats scored at least five points each.
Texas coach Rick Barnes said defending a team where anybody can stand out on a given night is the hurdle his Longhorns must clear. Their task that will be tougher without injured guard Isaiah Taylor.
“I just really have great respect for what he’s done with this group of guys,” Barnes said of Calipari’s approach. “And it’s not easy.
“There’s certain things when you go in, when you’re playing against a team that’s going 10 deep or whatever they need to do, it’s definitely a different challenge.”
One of Kentucky’s goals against Texas and on Sunday versus Eastern Kentucky is getting players like Aaron Harrison untracked.
He has scored in double figures three of the past four games, including a season-high 19 in an 89-65 win versus Boston University on Nov. 21. But Harrison has made just 7 of 26 from behind the arc.
“You just have to keep shooting,” Harrison said. “Eventually they will fall. I think it will change.”
Calipari believes the offense remains a work in progress but opted against a change in strategy for the Longhorns. More than keeping players satisfied with their minutes, the coach said the issue is keeping them engaged in the process.
So far, it’s working.
“This is a really basketball smart basketball team, a driven basketball team and a competitive basketball team,” he said. “Why not use all those things to keep us stepping forward?”