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January 27, 2012Marquis Teague is seeing the floor much better these days.
It helps that the Kentucky point guard is looking in the right direction.
"I'm just a lot more comfortable," Teauge said Friday as the top-ranked Wildcats prepared for Saturday's game at LSU. "I'm not always looking over my shoulder."
That hasn't always been the case this season. As he struggled though a slump in nonconference play, Teague admits he was looking to the bench for instruction - and for correction.
The former high school superstar was struggling to adjust to the college game, and coach John Calipari rarely was satisfied with his production. For the first time in his basketball career, the game wasn't clicking for Teague.
"I've always just been a natural player all my life, just played off reactions and just had natural ability," Teague said. "(Earlier this year) I was thinking a lot, just over-thinking too much, really. I was just thinking too much."
Things have simplified for Teague as he and the Wildcats (20-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) prepare to visit Baton Rouge, La., for Saturday's game against the Tigers (12-8, 2-4).
Teague's matchup with Hickey will be a subplot to Saturday's game, but for Teauge, the big story this season has been his adjustment from high school highlight-maker to collegiate floor general.
The 6-foot-2, 189-pound Teague still isn't the picture of consistency. He's prone to stretches with too many turnovers and he still takes some ill-advised jump shots for a player who's shooting 30.2 percent from three-point range.
But Teague - who's averaging 10 points, 4.4 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game - has shown some steady improvement. He's averaging 2.7 turnovers per game in SEC play, down from 3.1 in nonconference games, and he's made strides at the defensive end.
"The biggest thing with Marquis Teague that he's doing better is defending and rebounding," Calipari said. "You all want to look at his offense. He's defending and rebounding. So he's not stopping. He's going in and getting balls."
Calipari singled out Teague's seven-rebound performance in Tuesday's win at Georgia as particularly significant, saying that if Teague "has seven rebounds, we'll outrebound the other opponent by double digits."
But Calipari has coached a string of successful point guards who made their names offensively, and though Teague is a work in progress, he's more at ease of late in running the ship and serving as a distributor.
"On a team like this, that's what you have to do," Teague said. "You've got to pick and choose when to go. People would like to come down and shoot the ball, but if you play for a team like this, you've got to find guys. You've got Doron Lamb, Michael (Kidd-)Gilchrist, Terrence Jones. You've got to feed them guys. They all can score very easy and very well."
On Tuesday, Teague made a priority of getting the ball in the hands of Darius Miller who came off the bench with a hot hand. Miller tied a season high with 19 points. Teague had seven assists.
"He was hitting everything," Teague said. "You've got to find him, keep going to him. You got to feed the horse."
That sounds simple, but Teague admits it isn't always easy to transition from the scoring role he played in college to the pass-first player he's expected to be now. And struggles aren't easy to accept for a former high school All-American.
"It plays with your head a lot more than people would think it would do," Teague said. "It's tough. You've got to be strong-minded and just continue to work. You've got to work your way out of it."
Teague leaned on former UK point guard Brandon Knight, he said, for point-guard pointers. And Teague kept in constant contact with his father, who talked him through difficult times.
Though it all, Teague said, he kept listening to Calipari.
The UK coach said Teague's struggles are typical of players finding a new role in college. When former high school stars learn they can't play the same game in college, Calipari said, "it rattles them."
"Then they don't know if they're good enough," Calipari said. "Then you start questioning, 'Can I play?' Well, you can play, but just not the way you're playing. And that's the hard thing."
Teague still is learning to adjust. He'll look for his shot, he said, when the defense presents scoring opportunities. Otherwise, he's looking for open teammates - and looking at them, instead of peeking back for pointers from Calipari.
"My first thing is to get everybody else involved," Teague said. "On a team like this, you don't really have to score as many points as I'm used to scoring, so I've just tried to get everybody else involved and create and control the tempo."