Calipari looking for players to take charge

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 19, 2013 

  • Vanderbilt at Kentucky

    When: 8 p.m. Wednesday | TV: WKYT-27

    Records: UK 17-8 (8-4 SEC), Vanderbilt 10-14 (4-8)

    Series: Kentucky leads 137-45

    Last meeting: UK won 60-58 on Jan. 10 at Nashville

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

It might be an overstatement, but not a wild exaggeration. Kentucky must re-learn how to play basketball now that a torn anterior cruciate ligament sidelined Nerlens Noel.

For instance, the Cats are being introduced to the foreign concept of taking charges.

"When we had Nerlens down there, you don't really need to," guard Jarrod Polson said Tuesday. "A lot of us, we haven't really taken charges our whole life."

Noel, who still leads the nation in blocks (4.42 per game), often made the opposition's drive to the basket the start of a UK fast break. To take a charge was to stifle an opportunity for transition points.

Ironically, UK Coach John Calipari made fun of Duke taking charges in the Nov. 13 game. The NBA would fine the Blue Devils for flopping, he said at halftime before suggesting after the game that he didn't mean anything by that. ("Can't you Duke guys take a joke?")

Noel's torn left ACL at Florida last week made Kentucky's opinion flip on the flop.

As one of the adjustments to life without Noel, the Cats must warm to the idea of positioning themselves in front of a driver and falling over.

"It's something new for a lot of us," Polson said. "But we've been working on it. I mean, a charge is just as good as a block. Even better. It gets a foul on them.

"So if we can start doing that more, it'll take the drives down by the other team."

Going into the game Wednesday against Vanderbilt, Kentucky had taken only 10 charges all season. Wouldn't you know it, the team leader was ... Noel, with five. Polson ranks second with two.

Calipari acknowledged that asking UK players to start taking more charges was no small request.

"Big change," he said.

As stars on their high school teams, UK players probably didn't bother much with taking charges. Calipari offered another reason this will be a big transition.

"It's tough (because of) the focus and concentration (required)," he said. "They're 18 years old."

Repeatedly this season Calipari lamented the lack of focus and concentration of his latest freshman-dependent team. Poking fun at his players' belated I-could-have-had-a-V8 acknowledgement of mistakes this season, he said, "We've had more 'my-faults' this year than I can tell you. It's just a lack of concentration and discipline."

The UK coach noted how a lack of depth makes it more difficult to teach through substitution.

"When you don't have a bench to force them to concentrate, it makes it tougher," he said.

Trial and error became Kentucky's approach to the rest of the season when Noel crumpled to the floor at Florida. Coaches as well as players must learn on the fly how best to play. The final three weeks of the season becomes a reprise of the tentative steps of November.

"The only way you can learn what's working and not working is in a game," Calipari said. "Then you have time to adjust, a day or two. Then you get to throw it into the next game. That's where we are. You can't just skip steps."

Taking charges has been a rarity for Calipari's UK teams. As a complementary strategy, the Cats have not gambled for steals.

In the last four seasons, UK ranked in the top four nationally in blocks, and outside the top 100 in steals. As of Tuesday, the Cats ranked No. 2 in blocks (7.3 per game) and No. 230 in steals (6.3 per game).

Might Kentucky gamble more in order to create more transition offense? Not wishing to enlighten the opponents, Calipari has not detailed the possible changes other than to note the need to take charges.

He called for improved play by point guards Ryan Harrow and Polson, neither of whom recorded an assist in the 30-point blowout loss at Tennessee on Saturday. Ditto for shooting guard Archie Goodwin, who has been whistled for 13 of UK's 33 charges and has made only one of 22 three-point shots in the last 13 games.

Calipari called UK's guard play "shaky, at best."

The Cats must also get more of the so-called 50/50 balls.

"We have some issues to deal with, but the biggest thing is to just battle," Calipari said. "Fight. You've got nothing to lose. Go after it. But we'll see."

That didn't sound like a ringing endorsement of a bright immediate future.

While he vowed to be open to many changes and reading any motivational how-to books, Calipari said, "The reality of it is they have to go on the court and start performing better."


Vanderbilt at Kentucky

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday | TV: WKYT-27

Records: UK 17-8 (8-4 SEC), Vanderbilt 10-14 (4-8)

Series: Kentucky leads 137-45

Last meeting: UK won 60-58 on Jan. 10 at Nashville

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

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

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