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COLUMN: UK’s kiddies are growing up; Petrino to WKU a poor hire

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By Bob Watkins

Against another outmanned if feisty foe, Lipscomb, the Kentucky Wildcats were improved. John Calipari can circle-talk, make it complicated, but it isn’t. Big Blue fans are witnessing one-season removed high school hot shots coming of age. They’re learning how to adjust from being The Man, into a (what?) role player.
Against Lipscomb, Archie Goodwin appeared to accept he is not Dwyane Wade; Kyle Wiltjer knows his stand-and-shoot freebies from the perimeter are over until opponents are convinced Alex Poythress is Terrence Jones.
Nerlens Noel is finding rhythm, Ryan Harrow, a groove, and Jarrod Polson a new role, from People’s Choice to Glue Factor.
Next, Marshall should give Kentucky a reasonable test. Maybe a how-to in physical play. Point of interest: Will Poythress  ignore the ‘who me?’ reaction to foul calls, skip the pout, and go get the ball?
Footnote. If Calipari’s out-of-coach-box antics continue, the coach will cost Kentucky a technical foul, a crucial possession, even a win down the road. Ever more frequently as he rails at his players and/or the officials, Calipari wanders beyond the sideline coach’s box, and at times on the playing floor.

WESTERN-PETRINO
Western Kentucky hiring Bob Petrino is disappointing. Morally, a poor choice.
Financially, the gamble is a big name on the coach office door, however long it stays, which profits Hilltopper athletics. (Note: Ticket price hike, wait for it.)
As Director of Athletics Todd Stewart adjusts the feather in his cap, it seems folly to believe WKU becomes a bigger player in college sports because of this coach.
Optimist view: Western is taking one step back to take two steps forward ... later.
Petrino’s contract with Hilltopper football is (coach) history repeating itself. In 1989 Rick Pitino’s alliance (not allegiance) with C.M. Newton and Kentucky basketball was what it was, a stepping stone (to the Celtics).
Track record proves Petrino will be no more dedicated to Bowling Green than he was to Louisville, Atlanta or Fayetteville.
Let us hope then, Western’s athletic bank account is flush with cash, when the football transitions again.

MURRAY-WESTERN
Among college basketball’s most entertaining games so far – Western Kentucky at Murray State. The 75-70 final was a Murray State home win more than a WKU loss.
Murray’s Isaiah Canaan demonstrated again his All-American qualities –  superb leader and uncanny shooter in a game’s last five minutes. This is not last season’s Racers, but fans who like it hot, would do well to have tickets for Murray games with Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and Belmont.
Western? Defense was good enough to win at Murray. The offense, without starters T.J. Price and Jamal Crook and with no help from Kevin Kaspar, faltered. With dates at VCU and Louisville in Nashville, coming up, offense is fixable.

HERO & THE SHOT!
A hero most admired is one who gathers up his gall, recognizes a moment, grabs it by the throat and shakes the daylights out of it.
Alex Barlow, walk-on at Butler U., took a pass against No. 1 Indiana the other day, dribbled to front court, spun into the lane and took The Shot. Bumpity bump and in.
Bedlam. From the realm of Whatshisname, in a flash, Alex Barlow ascended to basketball’s summit.
Alex who?
A 5-11 kid straight out of your backyard pickup game popped onto the scene and gave us relief from the tiresome flood of hyperbole lavished on 5-star anointees, McDonalds’ All-Americans and television analysts who screech “did you see that!?”
We can be sure, can’t we, that Butler coach Brad Stevens called Barlow’s number for the last shot? As certain perhaps as we can swallow Tom Crean’s explanation for lifting his best shot blocker Cody Zeller (14 in 10 games) for the final 19 seconds.
Barlow’s clear look at the hoop for a twisting turn-around shot that took a quirky bounce-on-the-rim, magnified Crean’s mortifying blunder. But never mind. This week marks Barlow’s Bravery. Break out the T-shirts and pen another episode into Hoosier basketball book of magic.
Postscript. Barlow’s dagger last week brought to mind IU’s Christian Watford’s shot against Kentucky this time a year ago, and the old sports notion: “What goes around, comes around.”

‘TEAMS TO BEAT’
Team to beat in April (NCAA finals) remains Indiana, Butler coach Brad Stevens said after his team shocked IU last week. He was being politically correct of course.
Reality is, as we head to Christmas, the Teams-to-Beat-in-April category has three and none is named Indiana.
As Santa Claus loads his sleigh and downs a couple Tylenol, Duke, Louisville and Kansas are in the mix.
Duke tops the poll because of its customary modus operandi — smarts meshed and maximized into (what else?) team-ness.
Louisville is emerging as a Pitino Deluxe. Veteran team driven by a man whose trademarks should already have him in the Hall of Fame — relentless defense and the WILL to “make ’em play how we want to play.” Fast, frantic, physical, exhausting and full out for 40.

PARTING SHOT
Forbes Magazine ranking for best college for the money was published recently. Where do the Commonwealth of Kentucky universities rank?  
No. 90 is Centre, 186 is Transylvania, 190 is Berea, 224 is Bellarmine and Asbury is 339th. At 541st is Louisville and Murray State is 547th.
Aspirant to become one of America’s Top 20 universities is my alma mater, University of Kentucky ... ranks 410th. And so it goes.