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November 18, 2011As his Kentucky basketball team wrapped up a sometimes-spectacular and often-awful 75-65 win against Kansas on Tuesday, it hit John Calipari what awaits in the season ahead.
"I wanted this, at some point, on some level, to be easy," Calipari said on a conference call Thursday. "And it's never easy. I walked off the floor after the Kansas game and said, 'Well, it's going to be another grind.'"
The second-ranked Wildcats (2-0) keep grinding on this weekend with a pair of games in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Uncasville, Conn. UK faces Penn State Saturday at noon, then Old Dominion or South Florida on Sunday at noon. Both games will be played at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
And grinding might be key for Kentucky.
As Calipari works out the ins and outs of his team - what offensive style suits it best, which players need to play at which times of a game - he's confident at least in this: the Wildcats have what he calls "a will to win," and they can gut out some wins while they figure out the rest.
"We've got to shore up what we're going to do offensively," Calipari said. "Right now, we've made some strides defensively. We scramble well enough when we do break down to block shots and do those kind of things.
"We did get outrebounded (by Kansas). But it's offense (that's the question), similar to a year ago. We've just got to figure out what's the best way for this team to play. What've we got to look to do and how do we do it? When we got up nine and started to grinding it out and playing that way, we looked like we knew what we were doing."
On paper, grinding the Cats to a halt seems a sound strategy for opponents, and the odds are that not many teams will want to push the pace against Kentucky. Calipari's prepared for that probability.
Kansas came into its game against Kentucky planning to "bully these young kids," Calipari said.
"I would imagine most teams are going to try to do that to us," Calipari said. "They're going to look and say, 'If you let them just freely move all over, let them run up and down the court, you're losing.
"So you better get physical, knock people around, physically go at the rim and try to throw their body into them, hope they won't take a charge,' which we didn't against Kansas. We had about 10 opportunities ? and didn't choose to. But be physical. That's what I would say would be the (opponents') game plan until we prove that has no effect on us."
The Nittany Lions might not be prepared to push around the Wildcats.
Penn State isn't a powerhouse inside. Leading rebounder Cammeron Woodyard is a 6-foot-5 guard, and the Nittany Lions lack a true bruiser to counter the athleticism of UK forwards Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
The Nittany Lions are 3-0 with wins against Hartford, Radford and Long Island, but they're still searching for an identity after losing Talor Battle.
Battle averaged 20.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game as a senior last season, and first-year Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said replacing Battle will be done by committee.
But junior Tim Frazier is doing a solid job by himself so far, averaging 20.7 points, 8.7 assists and five rebounds per game.
Penn State lost Battle and its best forwards, Jeff Brooks and Davis Jackson, off last season's NCAA Tournament team, but Calipari insists the Nittany Lions will be no pushover for his developing team.
"They're good. They've won a bunch of games," Calipari said. "They do a good job of running their offense. Matter of fact, they run some stuff similar to what we're doing. Their guard play, you've got to keep people in front of you. They shoot the ball fairly well.
"They do a nice little job of throwing some zone at you and throwing a press at you. They're good. I mean, it's a game if we think we're going to walk in and just win, it'll be like our first half against Marist, but you'll be down. We're going to have to go do what we do and really perform to be able to do this."