Fatigue, Baylor's zone biggest challenges facing Kentucky

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 24, 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

ATLANTA — After one of Kentucky's highest-scoring NCAA Tournament games ever, Marquis Teague got little sleep. "A bit more than three hours," he said Saturday.

UK teammate Terrence Jones was more precise about how much he slept. "From 4:30," he said, "to about 10."

Kentucky's 102-90 victory over Indiana late Friday pumped enough adrenaline through Darius Miller's body to keep him up — what? All night?

"I wasn't looking at the clock anymore," Miller told reporters. "I can't wait to go back to the hotel and lay down."

Might the Cats become dog-tired on Sunday when Kentucky plays high-octane Baylor in the South Regional finals?

UK Coach John Calipari, who said he slept about three hours, made no promises.

"It will be hard," he said. "It's going to be hard. But Baylor has four or five hours of sleep on us. That's what it is."

After his version of a Cat nap, Calipari watched two tapes of Baylor games, then went for coffee with his former high school coach, Bill Sacco, and former boss at UMass, Bob Marcum.

"I get cream and two Splenda," the UK coach said, helpfully.

Baylor Coach Scott Drew dismissed fatigue as a factor.

"We were hoping for a triple-overtime (UK-IU) game, but that didn't happen," he joked. "I think these guys are 18, 19, 20 years old. They were used to playing three games in a day."

UK players dismissed a suggestion that a second game within 48 hours would be too much. A touch of irony hung in the Georgia Dome interview areas considering Kentucky played a quarter of its Southeastern Conference schedule against opponents having to do just that.

"This is not the time to complain about being tired," Teague said.

Brady Heslip, Baylor's top perimeter shooter, suggested it might be the right time to complain, at least privately.

"It's definitely tough," he said, "especially at this time of the season when teams have played 37 games or however many they've played.

"But, you know, all these schools have such great strength coaches. They know exactly what's going on. They know what to tell you, what to eat, when to rest. It's tough for them, but I also think they'll be ready to go."

In Baylor, Kentucky faces something akin to its mirror image. Long. Athletic. Talented. Adept at running in transition.

"We're evenly similar and alike," Jones said.

If a blistering pace concerns Kentucky, the Cats might take comfort in Baylor's willingness to play zone defense. Except, gulp, it could be a 1-3-1 zone, the type West Virginia used to eliminate UK from the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

When asked if the 1-3-1 zone had been Baylor's primary defense, Heslip said, "For most of the year, it has been. We definitely practice it. We learned our rotations early in the year.

"You've got to keep the ball in front of you and you've got to force them to take shots over our length. That's the whole idea."

Every player in Baylor's five-man rotation on the front line has a wingspan of 7 feet or longer. That plays out to a combined 35 feet, 11 inches.

"The zone can bother them a little bit," point guard Pierre Jackson said.

Miller conceded that Baylor's length was unusual. "One we haven't seen nearly all year," he said.

Many UK opponents — perhaps, most memorably, Vanderbilt — played zone.

"One of the reasons they'll play zone is that they're looking at, OK, you're not going to get to the rim," Calipari said. "If you do get to the rim, there's going to be length there."

Noting how Baylor can put 6-9 or taller players on the wing, Calipari said, "That is a huge zone. So it's created havoc for a lot of teams."

Drew cautioned reporters from assuming a zone defense made for a wooden stake to drive into Kentucky's heart. Baylor will play man-to-man or zone or whatever proves effective.

"At the end of the day, length doesn't matter if you can't keep the ball in front of you," the Baylor coach said. "I think we've gotten better defensively at doing that.

"It is much harder to shoot over a 6-10 (or) 6-11 guy than it is a 6-foot guy. But at the same time, first and foremost, I think if we're not back on defense, it doesn't matter if we're tall or small."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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