UConn loss brings call for unity

Passing in the dribble-drive, helping on defense emphasized

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 30, 2010 

A thin smile crossed DeAndre Liggins' face. In a Kentucky offense predicated on aggressive drives to the basket, how can a player be chastised for being "selfish" and too aggressive?

"It's very hard for me," Liggins said Monday when asked about finding the right balance. "I'm an attacking player."

But, he acknowledged, there is a better balance to be found than the blind-man-groping-in-the-dark effort UK displayed against Connecticut last week in the EA Sports Maui Invitational championship game.

"I've got to recognize what I have," Liggins said. "If the defense collapses, I've got teammates wide open."

Kentucky hopes to do better against Boston University on Tuesday night in Rupp Arena. In this case, the Cats have an easy act to follow. It's hard to imagine a worse performance than one that inspired UK Coach John Calipari to label it "selfish." Kentucky had only nine assists against UConn, which topped the seven against Washington the night before.

Unity of purpose was not evident on defense, either.

"Just not talking," big man Josh Harrellson said. "Not helping each other out. Just primarily focused on our own guy.

"You don't have an assigned guy. Everybody is our guy on the court."

As Liggins noted, the guilty were not confined to the many freshmen who form the core of this Kentucky team. Veterans were a part of the selfishness, too.

"Not only the young guys," Liggins said. "It was me, too. I admitted it. I have to learn and keep moving."

Of course, the very name of Kentucky's offense — the dribble-drive — suggests an emphasis on moves to the basket.

"That's the whole reason for the dribble-drive motion (offense)," Harrellson said. "That's the reason it works. You've got to have at least two or three good drivers on the floor just to get in the lane and penetrate and find open players."

It's that last part, the finding of open players, where Kentucky faltered against Connecticut.

UConn Coach Jim Calhoun noted how his team stressed cutting off the driver and forcing a pass. The Huskies frequently had more than one defender ready to cut off any driving lane to the basket.

Too often a Kentucky player forced up a shot.

Boston University (4-3) is primarily a man-to-man defensive team that presumably will try to cut off driving lanes to the basket.

Liggins suggested that playing a third game in three nights contributed to a poor performance.

"The first two games we played all right," he said. "The last game, we were tired a little bit."

Then he quickly added, "That's not an excuse."

Liggins and Harrellson noted how aggressively UConn attacked to start the game. The Cats did not handle that well, they said.

"UConn came out and punched us in the mouth," Liggins said, "and we never got over that. We never settled down. ... Everybody tried to do their own thing."

Harrellson cited UK's freshman-oriented team and a lack of experience.

"We just didn't know how to handle it," he said. "We just didn't have, I guess, the leadership we needed. We didn't have the go-to guys of last year. When something broke down, they could get us back on track."

The games of November and December are designed to learn such lessons. In that regard, the "selfish" play against UConn can serve a useful purpose.

"A loss early in the year can help us tremendously," Liggins said. "Last year in the middle of the year we lost to South Carolina."

Kentucky finished strong and advanced to an Elite Eight loss to West Virginia.

"If you want to lose, you want to lose early," Liggins said. "So we can learn from that and move on."

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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