Kentucky's athleticism, Wisconsin's discipline only part of what each does well

jtipton@herald-leader.comApril 4, 2014 

  • When: 8:49 p.m. Saturday | Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas | TV: TBS | Radio: WLAP-AM 630; WBUL-FM 98.1; WLXO-FM 96.1

    Records: UK 28-10; Wisconsin 30-7 | Series: UK leads 3-1 | Last meeting: UK won 63-57 on March 27, 2003, in NCAA Tournament

ARLINGTON, Texas — A hint of resentment hung in the air Friday as Kentucky and Wisconsin players discussed their national semifinal game.

Questions about Wisconsin's disciplined know-how implied that Kentucky will lack that quality when the teams play Saturday night.

Jon Hood, one of UK's few seen-it-all players, nodded knowingly.

"My freshman year, it was Cornell against us," he said, recalling a 2010 NCAA Tournament game. "It was the smart guys against the stupid guys. Go back and look at that score."

Kentucky won, 62-45. Or as DeMarcus Cousins said at the time, it was a basketball game, not a spelling bee.

"It doesn't matter," Hood said about the attention paid to Wisconsin's discipline. "Reporters are going to say what they want, and the talking heads on TV can make all the inferences they want. In the end, you've still got to throw the ball up and play."

Kentucky faces a Wisconsin team with its own perception problems. As star 7-footer Frank Kaminsky suggested, discipline can be a code word.

"People say we're a bunch of white guys who aren't that great athletically," he said. "That doesn't really mean anything to us."

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan continued to sound suspicious when someone raised the topic of contrasting styles, something Florida Coach Billy Donovan mentioned early this week.

"When people want to make something out about styles, I get a little leery," he said.

UK Coach John Calipari cautioned against presuming that Wisconsin lacked athleticism.

"They're more athletic than you think," he said of the Badgers. "They're more skilled than you think."

Befitting its reputation for discipline, Wisconsin leads the nation with the fewest turnovers (8.1 per game, on average), and ranks second in fewest fouls committed (15.0 per game). But the Badgers' average of 73.9 points marks the program's highest offensive production in 20 years.

Perhaps no statistic reflects the difficulty in pigeonholing Wisconsin better than this: The Badgers are the nation's only team to win at least one game this season while posting a point total in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s.

Maybe that's why Ryan qualified his response to a question about Wisconsin's athletic ability.

"Athleticism is defined in a lot of ways, OK?" he said. "Eye-hand coordination. Jumping ability. Strength. Being able to hit a fastball. Being able to drive a race car.

"When you say 'athletic,' this group we have is athletic in this sense: They have good perception and spacial skills for being a good offensive team."

Kaminsky plays a major role in making that happen. He's the unusual big man who can be productive around the basket and the three-point line.

"He's going to be the biggest matchup problem we're going to have," UK guard Jarrod Polson said.

In workouts this week, freshman Derek Willis played the role of Kaminsky. Willis likened Wisconsin's key player to Dirk Nowitzki.

When asked how Willis, the pseudo-Kaminsky, fared against Kentucky's defense in practice, Polson said, "He did well. He was hitting shots. He kind of played like Kaminsky in practice."

When a reporter said that Willis' good play could be interpreted as problematic, Polson recovered. "Toward the end of the week, as we got comfortable, he struggled a bit."

Kaminsky also passes to several good three-point shooters. Ben Brust, a 6-1 senior, has made a school record 232 three-point shots. Josh Gasser, a 6-3 junior, led the Big Ten in three-point accuracy this season (49.2 percent).

"We have a formula for success that's really been working for us," Kaminsky said.

Yes, he acknowledged, that formula is built on discipline and patience.

"We try to cause the other team fits," he said. "We like to get them out of what they like to do. That's why we watch so much film."

Wisconsin's patience won't catch Kentucky by surprise.

"They don't get bored going through an offensive play for the full 30 seconds," Marcus Lee said of the Badgers. "They're disciplined enough to go through the whole thing the whole time (and) stay immensely ready."

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

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