Regardless of the outcome, coach John Calipari expects every game to be a learning experience for his young and talented Kentucky team.
The third-ranked Wildcats hope to put those lessons gained from surviving a scare in their latest contest to good use Wednesday against undefeated Eastern Michigan in the conclusion of their Keightley Classic at Rupp Arena.
With Kentucky (5-1) down by 10 points with less than 8 minutes to play at home Monday, freshman point guard Andrew Harrison recorded a pair of 3-point plays and twin brother Aaron Harrison hit a key 3-pointer to highlight a 24-7 run that helped the hosts escape with a 68-61 win over Cleveland State.
With five freshmen starting a third straight game, the Wildcats trailed by four at halftime but prevailed despite shoot a season-low 35.8 percent, including 3 of 14 from the beyond the arc.
"It was a game we needed," said Calipari, whose team trailed by as many as 11 in the second half to the 3-3 Vikings. "Close wins are better learning experiences. We fought, which was a good thing. We learned about our team."
Though the Wildcats have won three straight since losing 78-74 on Nov. 12 to a Michigan State team that would overtake them for the top spot in the AP Poll, Calipari's biggest challenge is still trying to get all the individual talent to come together as a collectively strong unit.
"We're still not a good team," he said. "We're just not. I keep telling them. They're all into their own thing. When you're into your own thing, it's really hard to play basketball.
"But they're young. It's what we're fighting. It's what we're battling."
Julius Randle, the prize of Kentucky's freshmen class who's averaging 19.8 points and 13.7 rebounds, finished with 15 of each but turned the ball over five more times Monday for a team-leading 22 this season.
Andrew Harrison had 12 points and five assists but went 0 for 4 from 3-point range as the Wildcats won for the 13th straight time at home.
"This is definitely, hopefully, a turning point," Andrew Harrison said. "You never want to lose, no matter who you play. We could have played better. We're just going to go to practice and start getting better."
As freshmen last season, Alex Poythress had 16 points and Willie Cauley-Stein added 11 with 11 rebounds as Kentucky held Eastern Michigan to 24.2 percent shooting in a 90-38 home rout Jan. 2.
This season's Eagles, however, are looking to start 6-0 for the first time since 1996-97 and shot 54.2 percent during an 81-69 home win over Cleveland State on Nov. 18.
"Eastern Michigan is the next step," Calipari said. "When we go farther (into the schedule), every other team takes us to another level."
Though leading scorer Karrington Ward (18.2 points per game) was held to 11 during EMU's 74-69 home win over Texas-Arlington on Saturday, guard Ray Lee (18.0 ppg) went 12 of 15 from the field and made all five 3-point attempts to finish with a career-high 38.
Eastern Michigan has dropped 12 straight games against Top 25 opponents by an average of 27.9 points since an 89-83 overtime victory at No. 21 Michigan on Dec. 17, 1997.