Kentucky-LSU notes: Calipari reluctantly accepting zone defense works for Cats

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 21, 2014 

However reluctantly, Kentucky Coach John Calipari sounded Friday like he's increasingly accepting that idea of playing more zone defense the rest of the season.

Calipari called zone a "good change-up" and a "good defense for us. We work on it every day, which it not something we've done in the past."

The UK coach made it sound as though he's holding his nose as the Cats play zone.

"I'd love to be a zone coach," he said. "... How much do you really have to prepare for?"

Opponents are limited in how to properly attack a zone, he said. "Five or six things you can do."

But playing zone for an entire game would give new meaning to 40 minutes of hell.

"I'd love to be the guy who could do that," Calipari said. "That's just not me. But we're using it. It's been effective."

Calipari singled out Aaron Harrison and Jarrod Polson as effective defenders in zone. The UK coach said he'd been calling Harrison "the cat."

"His brother (Andrew) is not the cat," said Calipari, who then quoted himself, "'You won't believe this, Andrew. Your arm is just as long as his arm. You can do the same.'"

Calipari likened fans who urge Kentucky to play zone to a player being coached. The coach may give positive re-enforcement 80 percent of the time, but the 20 percent devoted to reprimands makes the biggest impression. "People out there only see the stops," he said. "But they don't realize Mississippi was getting back in the game by making (shots against a zone on Tuesday).

"But I'm getting better teaching it. I'm getting better understanding it."

James Young said UK was more effective in zone than man-to-man. "You only have to guard a certain area," he said. "You can go a lot harder."

UK's move to less man-to-man has links to Syracuse, a team long synonymous with a 2-3 zone. Eastern Michigan Coach Rob Murphy, a former Syracuse assistant, gave UK a detailed synopsis of the zone and drills that help players play it, Calipari said.

Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim has taken notice of Kentucky's zone and recommended it be used more often, Calipari said.

"Every time the team gives up a three, you go back to man-to-man," Calipari said Boeheim said. "But if the other team makes three threes on man, you don't go zone."

'Life I chose'

When asked what he thought of the unblinking scrutiny that comes with playing for Kentucky, Julius Randle said, "It is what it is. The life I chose."

Regrets? "Not at all," he said. "I love it."

Randle said he could not remember how old he was when he chose a basketball life. "I don't know if I chose it or it chose me," he said with a smile.

Randle had six points and five rebounds at LSU. In UK's last three games, he's returned to the dominating form he displayed at the beginning of the season by averaging 20 points and 9.3 rebounds.

Calipari credited playing fewer minutes, although Randle has averaged 31.3 minutes in the last three games, which is a slight increase in his season average of 29.8 minutes.

The UK coach also noted fewer shots. Randle has averaged 7.3 shots in the last three games. He's averaging 8.9 shots in SEC play and 9.6 overall.

In Cal I trust

As a basketball celebrity, Randle said he has to be careful about who to trust.

When asked whether he trusted Calipari, he said, "A lot. I trust him with my career. I trust him with my game. Everything he says, I trust him with. It's been working for me. I'll keep listening to him (and) keep building on what he says and see how it goes."

Randle said he can ignore those who offer unsolicited advice.

"I just come from a no-excuses-type family," he said. "Just get it done or just shut up."

Cartoon Cal

During UK's game at Ole Miss this week, the television camera caught Calipari with an exaggerated facial expression as he spoke to Randle. Think of the Seinfeld episode that included Jerry and George making fun of a girlfriend whose bellybutton appeared to speak. "Helloooo," Jerry and George said to each other as they contorted their faces.

Randle declined invitations to explain. "I'm not roasting coach," he said. "You're not getting anything out of me."

Calipari made light of the moment. "I think he was telling me, 'Coach, I really love you,'" he said. "And I went, 'What?!' I think that's what it was."

Hickey comes home

Former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey has been nearly air-tight as LSU's point guard.

Through 13 SEC games, he's committed only 14 turnovers (one every 29 minutes, on average). For the season, he's committed only 26 turnovers in 25 games.

Hickey leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio in all games (3.3 to 1) and in league games (3.2 to 1).

Against Kentucky, he's been even better. Believe it or not, Hickey has committed one turnover in 135 minutes against UK. In four games against the Cats, he's had 16 assists while averaging 10.3 points.

Of playing in Rupp Arena, LSU Coach Johnny Jones said of Hickey, "I'm sure there's an emotional charge for him in this game."

Etc.

Mark Jones and Jimmy Dykes will call the game for ESPN.

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

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