John Clay: Anthony Davis' defense just tip of Kentucky's spear

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 7, 2012 

  • 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

The Spiderman in the middle, the one who blocks more shots by himself than most teams, the one who Tuesday night was the subject of a game-day poster, he gets all the attention.

But Kentucky's defense is more than Anthony Davis.

Eighth-ranked Florida found that out Tuesday night in Rupp Arena.

See, the Gators (7-1 in the SEC) were supposed to present a different challenge.

Florida wouldn't take it right at the general of the Kentucky SWAT team. The Gators were all about their crafty guards. The Gators were all about excelling from the perimeter. The Gators were all about the three-point shot.

In fact, they led the nation in made three-pointers per game, averaging 10.5. They were making 40 percent of their shots behind the arc.

Pre-game, Kentucky Coach John Calipari guaranteed Billy Donovan's team would take 30 triples. He predicted they could make as many as 20.

"If they do," Calipari said, "we move on to the next game."

The Gators ended up taking 27 three-pointers.

They made six.

They lost by 20 points, 78-58.

Kentucky moves on to the next game with a 10-0 record in the SEC.

At one point, Florida was two-for-17 from the three-point stripe.

Erving Walker, who entered averaging 12.6 points, failed to score a single point. He missed all four of his three-point shots. Erik Murphy was one-for-five from three. Bradley Beal was one-for-seven.

"We played awful," Beal said, "and they murdered us."

"I felt like we got some good looks," Donovan said. "But it was probably a combination of their defense and us missing shots."

Thing is, when they play Kentucky, teams seem to miss shots. The Cats have allowed just one team to shoot better than 43.5 this season, and no team to shoot better than 48 percent (that was Alabama).

Kentucky came into the game holding opponents to 35.8 percent shooting on the year. Florida shot 34.7.

In fact, in three years with Calipari as coach, Kentucky has allowed just one team to shoot better than 50 percent. That was Connecticut in last year's Maui Invitational. The Huskies shot 57.7 percent. Those are the same Huskies who went on to win the national championship.

That was last year. This year, Davis is no doubt the eraser on defense. He cleans up the mistakes. Tuesday, he added four more blocks to his record-setting total. Thing is, are there really all that many mistakes.

"They've got great length," said Donovan.

They are long and talented. There is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays hard, and defends harder. There is Terrence Jones, who can use his bulk to contend with power forwards and agility to guard smaller players. There is the savvy of senior Darius Miller, who at 6-foot-8 can guard smaller players. There is the underrated, on defense, Doron Lamb.

There is also Marquis Teague, the man on the ball, whose defense and overall game has been a marvel of steady improvement.

"He broke off one play tonight, let them get a three in the corner," said Calipari of Teague's defense. "But he's playing really well."

In the post-game, Donovan talked about how much he liked Kentucky's disposition, the way the Cats carried themselves. He mentioned Kidd-Gilchrist. He mentioned Davis. He talked about the way Calipari gets his players to play together.

That goes for defense, as well as offense. By the end of last season, when Kentucky transformed from a team that couldn't win on the road to a team that made the Final Four, the Cats played team defense on a high level. They knew how to help. They knew how to rotate. They knew when and where to take chances. Over the final 13 games, not a single team shot better than 46.9 against the Cats.

That team ended up being one of the best defensive teams in the country.

This team is the best defensive team in the country.

And it's more than just Anthony Davis.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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