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November 23, 2011

Teague shows improvement as Cats roll Radford

This isn't what Marquis Teague does.

He doesn't struggle. He doesn't rack up turnovers and infuriate his head coach. Kentucky's freshman point guard isn't that guy.

At least, he didn't think he was.

But prior to No. 2 Kentucky's 88-40 win against Radford Wednesday night, that's just who Teague had been. He entered the game with more turnovers (18) than assists (11) and some serious minutes logged in John Calipari's doghouse.

"This has been the hardest time for me ever in my life that I've played point guard," Teague said Wednesday. "Coach Cal expects a lot from his point guards. You've got to run this team and still be able to get yourself going."

It's a challenging lesson to learn, but Teague had a studious performance against Radford. He scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and handed out five assists with two turnovers and two steals.

It's not perfection. But it's progress.

"It's hard (playing point guard for Calipari)," Teague said. "It takes time to learn. You've just got to be patient and keep working and keep listening. You'll figure it out over time. Most of his guards do. But at first, when you first come in, it's kind of overwhelming and it's kind of tough to figure out."

So Calipari is putting in extra teaching time. And he's giving Teague a slightly longer leash.

"I told him I'm going to give him one flub a half," Calipari said.

That means one free (bad) pass; one free mishandled dribble or ill-advised look-away. And after that?

"I'll probably be very aggressive with him," Calipari said. "Depending on time and score, I may take him out, I may not take him out."

That approach is meant to relax Teague, who admits he's been overthinking.

"Coach Cal was telling me some things he wanted me to do, so I was just trying to go out there and make sure I did it to perfection," Teague said. "I didn't want to mess up, but that was causing me to mess up."

Teague didn't surpass his limit on Wednesday. He used his one free turnover in each half, but otherwise ran the UK offense with relative polish. All four of his fellow starters joined him in double-digit scoring - Terrence Jones had 19 points, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 15, Anthony Davis 12 and Doron Lamb 10 - and though the Cats looked flat at times, they shot 50 percent from the floor.

Those numbers came against an overmatched opponent, and Teague still had his moments of apparent confusion. But Teague looked more prepared and poised than during UK's trip to Connecticut over the weekend, when he had four assists and nine turnovers in two games.

"It feels good just to come out and play good one game," Teague said. "(I didn't) turn the ball over as much, and of course we got the win."

But there are more challenging games ahead, and that's why Calipari has been pushing hard for Teague to improve. When Calipari lights him up in practice, his teammates cool Teague down.

"He's always trying to help you," Lamb said he tells Teague. "He isn't trying to hurt you. Just play your game; don't be scared to make mistakes. If you make a turnover, just get back on defense and try to redeem yourself on D."

If Teague has an open shot, he said, his teammates are encouraging him to take it. If there's nothing there for him, he can run the offense and try to get the easiest bucket possible for another Cat.

It's simple basketball. But it's an adjustment for Teague, who grew accustomed in high school to playing at one speed - as fast as possible - and dusting inferior defenders off the dribble.

"Honestly, most of the time I could break my man down and just do whatever I want," Teague said. "Here, you've got to actually run your team. I'm playing with some of the greatest players in college basketball, so you've got to get them the ball, make sure they're getting touches. It's been pretty tough, but I'm figuring it out."

He's not the first point guard to struggle.

Teauge said it "keeps me confident" to know that Wall and Knight went through the same struggles. And it keeps him focused knowing that both those players ultimately were NBA lottery picks.

"I know everything (Calipari's) doing is only going to make me better," Teague said. "Obviously it worked for all his other point guards, so what he's saying is correct. Everything he's telling me is the right thing, so I'm just going to listen and keep working."


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