John Clay: Samford makes the cut in Kentucky's learning curve

Princeton offense good prep for Cats

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 21, 2011 

It's a veritable pastry shelf of pre- and post-Christmas patsies comprising this Kentucky basketball schedule stretch. They're sugary sweets sure to bring fat victory margins and satisfied smiles.

But do they do anything for your team's long-term health?

That depends.

Take Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, where John Calipari's Cats followed through on their favor to former UK basketball operations guy and current Samford AD Martin Newton and battered the Bulldogs 82-50.

The Birmingham ballclub entered the game just 1-6 against Division I teams, but give the visitors credit. They competed. They appeared to know what they were trying to accomplish. And they ran a distinctive offense that the Cats might see down the road.

That would be a variation of the Princeton offense. And by my unofficial count, five of Samford's 20 field goals came on perfectly executed back-door plays to the basket.

"That's what happened last year; we had to play Princeton," Calipari said afterward, referring to that first-round NCAA Tournament game in which the Cats needed a final-possession basket from Brandon Knight to advance to the second round.

"Now if we had play a team in the NCAA Tournament that plays this way, I think the game preparation, they'll understand why we're preparing the way we are. I'm not sure they understood when we did it today and the last few days to prepare for this game."

That's not to say Kentucky played poorly defensively. Far from it. This is a good defensive team already, with a chance to be great. In fact, dating to last season, the Cats extended to 44 their string of consecutive games holding an opponent under 50 percent shooting.

But Samford did shoot 43.5, the highest field-goal percentage by an opponent against the Cats this season.

"And that's with shooting 18 percent from the three," Calipari said. "Because we stopped playing. They're a team that's going to pass it four or five times, and then back-cut you, back-screen you, and a group of freshmen stopped playing."

It didn't beat Kentucky. Far from it. Chattanooga last Saturday, Samford on Tuesday, Loyola-Maryland, which comes to Rupp on Thursday, and Lamar, which arrives next week — none of those teams has the complete game to actually challenge the Cats.

But each might do something that Calipari wants his team to see, or work on.

Another Tuesday night task: Communication.

That might not have worked exactly with the "Breakfast Club," the concept Calipari talked about Monday, saying that four or five players were meeting every morning to work out and then eat breakfast together before practice.

Most of the players deemed the "Breakfast Club" as something new that had yet to get off the ground. Doron Lamb said he didn't know anything about it.

"Nobody's sent me a text," said the sophomore, who has actually been his own one-man workout club, doing extra treadmill work before and after practice.

Darius Miller said he knew about the "Breakfast Club," that the whole team would be doing it, and that Calipari was the one who had told them about it, about how Michael Jordan started it with the Bulls. Marquis Teague said that some guys come on different days, though some locker-room canvassing appeared to unearth that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis were at least a couple of the early risers.

So how about on-the-court communication?

"I think we did better," Teague said, "but we still need to do better. We got beat on some back-doors that shouldn't have happened. So we still need to do better."

Luckily, there are a couple more cupcakes, er games, to feed off of, and polish off of, before Louisville comes to town on New Year's Eve.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226, or 1-800-950-6379, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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