Dribble-drive only a part of Cats' offense

Calipari: 'We are a post-up team'

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 18, 2009 

  • Thursday

    Sam Houston State at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. TV: FS South

    Records: Sam Houston St. (2-0); Kentucky (2-0)

If you had been out of the country the last 10 months and dropped into the Kentucky-Miami (Ohio) game Monday night, you might have thought Billy Gillispie was still Kentucky's coach.

One big man, DeMarcus Cousins, was at the high post. From there, he tried to pass the ball to another big man, Patrick Patterson, in the low post.

That was Gillispie's power-oriented high-low approach to offense.

Huh?

Hadn't Gillispie been fired last spring? Hadn't UK hired John Calipari, who used his speedy dribble-drive offense to make Memphis a player again on the national scene?

"We are a post-up team, folks," Calipari said after Kentucky's 72-70 victory. Then Calipari added, "We just have to figure out how we're going to play."

The dribble-drive isn't dead. Long live the dribble-drive.

Calipari is using these early-season exhibition and regular-season games to learn the best way to get the most from his players. With five players 6-foot-9 or taller, he's apparently come to the conclusion that UK must be a post-up team.

UK can also be a speed team with freshmen John Wall and Eric Bledsoe pressing on the accelerator.

Before practice began, Calipari said more than once that he would tailor his coaching to the available talent. Now he's in the process of deciding the nature of this hybrid approach.

As Calipari saw it, the victory over Miami offered plenty of insights.

Most notably, the RedHawks' torrid three-point shooting built a 36-18 first-half lead. This gave UK a gut-check.

"I was ecstatic that we got down 18 points," Calipari said with a straight face. "Because I wanted to see what we were made of. And when this team (Miami) wouldn't go away, the thing I loved about my team was, they would say, 'We are not going to lose this. We are not going to lose this game.' "

In the pre-season, Calipari wished aloud for a deficit.

"He wanted to see if we were going to fight or surrender," Patterson said.

Calipari also learned that a halftime adjustment will not automatically translate into improvement. After Miami went 10-for-16 from three-point range in the first half, Calipari drew a line in the metaphorical sand. If Kentucky lost, it would be not be via three-pointers.

Then Miami went 5-for-10 in the second half, more than enough to keep victory in doubt.

Miami showed its own fight. After the 18-point lead melted away, the Redhawks fell behind 57-52 with less than seven minutes to go.

Rather than meekly submit, Miami fought back and made it a game decided by a last-second shot.

"We came up with a brilliant effort," Miami Coach Charlie Coles said.

Down the stretch, Kentucky more or less improvised its strategy. With a new coach, a freshman-heavy team and a system new to all players, there simply hasn't been time to map out precise plans for specific situations, Calipari said.

For instance, the UK coach noted that Miami point guard Kenny Hayes hit an NBA-length three-pointer to tie it at 70 with six seconds left. UK could have fouled before the shot was attempted.

"We haven't even worked on fouling or what we are going to do," Calipari said.

Then Wall's dash downcourt and fade-away jumper to win it came with little planning beyond Calipari's preference not to call timeout — and let the defense get set — for a potential game-winning shot.

Calipari said he prefers to never call a timeout in that situation. But he's flexible.

"I will call one if I see him (the dribbler) run by me, and I don't like what I see," he said. "I will call a timeout and advance the ball with a pass. But I will be honest with you. We hadn't worked on it."

Wall said he considered passing to a teammate.

"A little," he said. "If I was double-teamed, then I would pass it off. But they sagged off a little, and I got the shot off."

And it went in. Just as the coach might draw it up later in the season.

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