Boxing out has been UK men's priority in practice since being outrebounded by Vols

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 20, 2014 

Kentucky Wildcats guard/forward James Young (1) and Kentucky Wildcats forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) battled with Tennessee Volunteers guard Derek Reese (23) for a rebound as #13 Kentucky played Tennessee on Saturday January 18, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff

HERALD LEADER

In the last two games, Kentucky lost on a last-second putback at Arkansas and then beat Tennessee despite being thoroughly outplayed on the boards.

Guess what has been a point of emphasis for UK? Hint: think rebounding.

"We definitely need to box out a lot more," wing James Young said Monday. "That's what we've been doing since the last game."

Tennessee outrebounded Kentucky 39-24, which led Young to declare, "That will never happen again."

Kentucky can begin making good on Young's statement Tuesday night when Texas A&M comes to Rupp Arena. The Aggies appear to be a good opponent for a team looking to re-establish its rebounding bona fides. In four Southeastern Conference games, A&M has been outrebounded 31.8-36.2.

Assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for John Calipari on the SEC teleconference and day-before-the-game press conference, reminded reporters that Kentucky has been a good rebounding team. Even with the hammering administered by Tennessee, the Cats remain second nationally in rebound margin (plus 11.4).

"But we had our butts handed to us against Tennessee," Robic said.

Earlier this season, Missouri showed how wildly rebounding can fluctuate. In a four-day period, the Tigers were outrebounded 43-34 by Georgia, then battered Auburn 44-28.

"It's all about effort," Missouri Coach Frank Haith said. "Rebounding is effort."

Robic agreed. But he also noted that UK players should not "ball-watch."

"As the shot goes, you're watching the ball as opposed to checking out your man and keeping him off the glass," Robic said. "We made a point of that (Sunday), and it was better."

The putback by Arkansas was understandable, if in the strictest sense avoidable. Many players will assume a last-second shot, especially one from beyond the three-point line, will be decisive one way or another.

Tennessee's boardwork was harder to rationalize. "To give up 20 offensive rebounds is a ton," said Robic, who noted that the Vols' margin was inflated by several instances of two-three-four tips of rebounds toward the basket.

Robic returned to ball-watching as an area to correct. "Especially when you're a guard," he said. "Guards have to get long rebounds. And guards need to crack down on big guys, especially when you're on the weak side because that's where the majority of balls go."

Then there's crediting UK's opponent. Tennessee leads the SEC in rebound margin (plus 12.5) through four league games, and ranks ninth overall (plus 9.4).

"We spend time on rebounding," Coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday. "And we have two of the better rebounders." That would be Jarnell Stokes, who grabbed 15 against Kentucky, and Jeronne Maymon.

Maymon only grabbed five rebounds. But, Robic said, "If you're not going to get it, don't let your man get the ball, and keep him off the glass. That's what Maymon did with Julius (Randle), and was very effective with it."

Randle had a season-low two rebounds against the Vols.

Teammate Willie Cauley-Stein matched his season-low of three rebounds against the Vols. In his two UK seasons, he's only had five games with fewer rebounds (all five as a freshman last season).

Robic credited Tennessee's physical approach. "Once they made contact, he didn't fight back," Calipari's right-hand man said. "He has a big height advantage. But he's just got to get down and be physical and make the first blow and use his size to rebound above the rim. ...

"He didn't really position himself very well on the shot (against Tennessee) and got thrown around a little bit. He can't do that against big, rugged guys. That's what we worked on (Sunday)."

Alex Poythress and Randle can simulate in practice the kind of roughhouse tactics opponents might use. "But they're not Maymon and Stokes," Robic said. Plus, either Randle or Poythress or both might be on the same team as Cauley-Stein at times in practice.

"He knows he has to fight," Robic said of Cauley-Stein. "And if he doesn't fight, he can't be on the court.

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

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