John Clay: Cards may see opening in UK's porous three-point defense

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 30, 2009 

They were the men on the flying trapeze, lobbing balls in the air, throwing down dunks.

There were eight slams in the first-half alone Tuesday night. By game's end, John Wall had compiled a school-record 16 assists, DeMarcus "Point Machine" Cousins had scored 19 points in 19 minutes, the Cats had called off the dogs and still topped the century mark.

Kentucky's easy 104-61 win over a helpless Hartford was a circus performance more than an actual contest.

Saturday, when that little team from Louisville comes to town, it'll be a circus atmosphere with a very compelling contest.

Kentucky-Louisville is so compelling, in fact, that John Calipari made a post-game, or maybe pre-game plea.

"The only thing I'm asking in this game is let's just show the country that we are the classiest fans in the country," said the coach. "Please, no posters. Nothing. No chants. Nothing. We don't need it. Let this be about these kids."

Ok, you can't blame the man for asking.

Whether the Big Blue Nation will listen remains to be seen.

But if it is about the kids — isn't it always about the kids? — and not the rival head coaches at the two rival schools, then even in this victory there was one trouble spot amongst all the high-flying happiness that came with hammering Hartford.

"We're not defending well at two or three positions," said Calipari.

He didn't really identify the positions, though the coach did single-out Darius Miller as one player he had to ride for not guarding up to his ability. But you could identify at least one area of concern — Hartford made 12 of 29 three-point shots. That's the fifth team in 14 games to make nine or more three-pointers against Kentucky.

And Louisville is coached by a man who built his reputation on emphasizing the three-point shot.

"We're not doing as good a job against the three-point shot as we need to, we're not," Calipari said. "But if a team wants to come in there and try to beat us with threes, I'll live with that. I'll take our chances, you know."

Louisville might take him up on that. This isn't a great U of L three-point shooting team, but the Cards are capable. They made a dozen threes in beating Oral Roberts. Reginald Delk is making 51.5 percent of his threes on the season. Edgar Sosa is at 41.5 percent for the year. Jerry Smith is making just 23.1 percent, but he's certainly has the long-range ability to start draining triples at any time.

Pitino might need Saturday to be that time. The Cards aren't likely to match the Cats inside. Not with DeMarcus Cousins playing like a "beast," as Calipari put it, with freshman Daniel Orton blocking shots, and Patrick Patterson always in the paint. Instead, Louisville might have to point to the perimeter to have a chance.

Kentucky is not only a talented team, but a progressing one.

The Cats dished out 30 assists, led by Wall's record-breaking 16.

It committed just seven turnovers, and this time Calipari didn't complain that there were too few forced turnovers, a sign of a lack of aggressiveness.

True, there was a lot of stat-padding, but if you are Kentucky you are supposed to beat a 2-9 team by 43 points, which is exactly what this still-young team did.

And if you are a Kentucky fan, with your archrival coming to town, especially when your archrival's head coach, who used to be your former coach, has had a less than relaxing summer, you are supposed to make up chants, dream up signs, and make his life miserable.

Calipari wants you to practice self-control.

"This is about our players and their players," he said. "It's not about the coaches."

Maybe the signs should read: Defend the 3.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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