Men: Portland at Kentucky

Calipari to loosen reins on young Cats

Experiment could be sloppy but allow coach to find right style

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 26, 2011 

Kentucky Wildcats guard Marquis Teague (25) got some support from Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari as UK defeated Radford 88-40 on Wednesday November 23, 2011 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON — Lexington Herald-Leader

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

To quote the motto of fictional Faber College in the movie Animal House, "Knowledge is Good." John Calipari's variation on that theme, to learn about his third Kentucky team this early season, has taken a turn toward what he called "random" play.

"I need to let them go a little bit," Calipari said Friday.

He acknowledged that might mean more turnovers and ill-advised decisions, perhaps beginning with Saturday's game against Portland. But, he suggested, a few more missteps now can serve the greater long-term purpose.

"So I can see where they go," Calipari said of this experimental portion of the season. "Then let's tighten up. These kids want to win. They know we can't play this way and win."

Calipari noted that Kentucky has another freshmen-oriented team. Aside from senior Darius Miller, the bulk of the players are freshmen and sophomores.

With largely new players comes the greater need to see what approach maximizes team potential.

Calipari agreed with the notion that more random play puts a responsibility on freshman point guard Marquis Teague, who is coming off his most efficient game of the young season.

"That's why we have to scrimmage a little more," the UK coach said. "Not just him. Every player needs to know (how to make better decisions). ... "

That said, Calipari added a few moments later, "We need to scrimmage more. I can coach Marquis through a lot of stuff more than (in) drills."

Calipari dismissed the notion that more random play can translate into more individualistic play.

"Not with these guys," he said. "That's not been an issue."

Kentucky has displayed enough selflessnesss and unified purpose to support longer stretches of random play, Calipari said.

"If the players are selfish, you have to run all plays," Calipari said. "... I don't like to call plays every time down. But if I have to, I will."

Calipari suggested that this Kentucky team is well-suited to a freer rein.

"Based on the fact that when you run plays, in most cases, you try to hide a guy or two," he said.

In other words, UK can put five players on the court the defense must respect. The opponent cannot help off one UK player to double-team another without running a risk.

"When you don't have to hide one player on the court, the more random you play the better," Calipari said. "(If the opponents) have to take two defenders to stop a player, know you have an advantage."

After Old Dominion caused Kentucky to struggle, zone defense has been a trendy topic to ponder. Calipari conceded that random play isn't much of an answer should the opponent get back and set up in a zone defense.

Kentucky needs ball and player movement to distort a defense set in a zone, Calipari said. Then the offense must get the ball into the lane area through a drive or entry pass into the high or low post.

Portland Coach Eric Reveno said he prefers man-to-man as his team's primary defense while mixing in some zone.

"Kentucky's good enough, a bad zone is not going to bother them," he said. "If it's not what you do, it's not necessarily going to work."

Reveno noted that early-season developments can generate — gasp — an over-reaction. So while ODU's zone bothered Kentucky, it should not be considered a key to making Kentucky a pedestrian team.

"Against a good team like Kentucky, it's not going to be Kryptonite against them," Reveno said of a zone defense. "Against a good team, you're going to have to mix it up."

Calipari suggested the move-countermove ballet is typical of early-season basketball. The UK coaches don't necessarily need to be settled on the team's approach any time soon.

"This is one of those years I hope it doesn't take three months," Calipari said of the process, "which is what it took last year."

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