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New approach to officiating serves Wildcats well in Blue-White scrimmage

There were dunks, there were lobs, jump shots and steals, but in the end, what pleased John Calipari most were the fouls.

There weren’t very many of them.

The Blues and the Whites committed only 20 fouls between them during Kentucky’s intra-squad scrimmage Tuesday night in Rupp Arena.

Calipari spoke at length following the game about the updated approach college referees are expected to take this season. It wasn’t quite as long as the oration he delivered on Media Day about the new rules, going on as though he believed every ref in the Southeastern Conference was listening, and taking notes. He hit the highlights once more after the scrimmage.

“Again, what I'm hoping is the entire season, this is how the game is called,” Calipari said. “You see a little more free‑flowing, instead of checking a guy or hip‑checking a guy or grabbing a guy, hands up in the air and I ride you out of bounds, ‘you're done now.’ You can't play that way.”

According to Calipari, it should have been this way all along. “It's what the rules are,” he said. “I hate to tell you, that's what the rules have been. They just haven't enforced them. Now they're saying they are, and it's good.”

It’s especially good for a team such as Kentucky, capable of fielding a second five that can compete with at least half the teams in Division I basketball. James Young led the Blue team with a game-high 25 points; Julius Randle pumped in 21 and grabbed eight rebounds; Aaron Harrison chipped in with 19 points, six assists and four steals.

But the surprise leading scorer for the White team was Derek Willis, who poured in 21, including 15 behind the arc, where he sank five of six. “There's that other kid, that big long kid, Derek Willis, who has no conscience whatsoever, just lets you go,” Calipari said. “(He) played well.”

Willis figured to supply bench support the day he signed with the Wildcats. And the lineup Calipari sent out dressed in blue to start the contest appeared to be the future starting five: Willie Cauley-Stein, Randle, Young and the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew. But he stopped short of confirming them as the starting five for the exhibition opener Friday against Transylvania.

“There's a little bit of a dogfight” for playing time, he said. “We've got to figure out how we're going to do this. We've got to have a little plan about it, and then everybody has got to buy into what we're doing and their roles on the team.”

Aaron Harrison played 35 productive minutes and seems to understand he can’t slow down for a minute, given the competition for playing time each day in practice. Nobody can.

“It’s amazing to be a part of so much talent and such a great group of guys,” he said. “No one really understands how competitive practices are and how good everyone is. I’m really blessed to be a part of a great group like this.”

Those practices, when they involve scrimmaging, include college referees – all the better to understand how the game supposedly will be called this season. It’s a constant point of emphasis by the coaching staff, according to the players.

“If we don’t have our hands up, we run for it,” said Cauley-Stein. “It’s a pretty big statement he is trying to make.”

A crackdown on physical play could help Cauley-Stein make a bigger statement this season himself. Who better to benefit from cleaner action in the low post than a seven-footer?

“Growing up, you’re used to being fouled all of the time,” he said. “You’re used to someone having a hand on you all of the time. Now, in practice, this is too easy. We are trying to work on not fouling and putting your hands up.”

The practice sessions, apparently, have had a similar flow to what Calipari – and the Big Blue Nation – saw during the Blue-White game. Obviously, the defense is nowhere near what it will be in March (much less a month from now). But the blueprint seems sound.

“With the people we have,” Cauley-Stein said, “it’s just bucket after bucket after bucket. But, to see it in a live setting, I get it now. It makes more sense.”

(Dick Gabriel is in his 25th season with the UK TV and Radio Networks, and can be heard on the Big Blue Insider Monday through Friday from 6-8 p.m. ET on 630 WLAP-AM and wlap.com.)


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