To explain his team’s defensive strategy against Kentucky, Hofstra Coach Joe Mihalich borrowed a line from a former coach at Temple.
“As John Chaney used to say, we were laying and praying,” Mihalich said. “In that zone laying and praying. Laying back and hoping they wouldn’t make some shots.”
The strategy, which Kentucky Coach John Calipari repeatedly says he expects from many opponents this season, did not work. UK made eight of 23 three-point shots in defeating Hofstra 96-73.
“Once they got it going, though, I don’t know how you beat them,” Mihalich said. “I don’t know how you can beat them if they’re making their threes.”
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Kentucky shot holes in a Hofstra defense that came into the game ranked No. 281 in points allowed (77.9 per game) and No. 268 in opponents’ shooting (45.8 percent).
UK shot with 51.4-percent accuracy. Perhaps it was infectious. Isaiah Briscoe, who had gone 3-for-15 from three-point range this season, made one. So did Dominique Hawkins, who had hit four of 15.
“You kind of pick your poison with them,” Mihalich said. “We thought we’d try to pack it in a little, shorten the game and see if they couldn’t make some shots. And they did.”
UK Coach John Calipari seemed ambivalent about the three-point shooting. Making three-point shots enhances Kentucky’s offense.
“If we’re making threes, we should win by 30,” he said.
But, Calipari added, his teams are not dependent on three-point shooting. Once more, he said he wanted freshman Malik Monk, who is on pace to break UK’s record for threes in a season, to be more well-rounded as an offensive player.
Counting Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis as co-starters at forward, Monk is averaging the least foul shots (2.3 per game) of any UK starter.
“We don’t rely on threes … ,” Calipari said. “I like to have a team shoot 32 percent and still win the game that’s gritty. … We win by six. Couldn’t make a shot. … And we still win. That’s when you have a good team.”
Pass or shoot
Briscoe shifted to passing mode early in the second half. His crisp swing pass to the right corner netted a three-pointer by Willis. Three possessions later, Briscoe passed up a sure transition layup and back-passed to the trailing Adebayo for a dunk.
That extended UK’s lead to 62-36 and prompted a Hofstra timeout with 16:07 left.
Hofstra point guard Deron Powers played for Hampton against the 2014-15 Kentucky team that won its first 38 games of the season.
So, how did Powers compare the current Cats with that UK juggernaut?
“I think that (2014-15) Kentucky team had a little more depth than this Kentucky team,” Powers said.
To which, Hofstra Coach Joe Mihalich, who was sitting next to Powers, blurted out, “More depth that this team?”
Powers responded by saying, “I think so. Especially (with) size. They definitely had a lot more size (in 2014-15). They had like four or five seven-footers on that team.”
UK made a concerted effort to contain Hofstra’s Rokas Gustys, who came into the game leading the nation in rebounding (13.5 per game).
Gustys, a native of Lithuania, grabbed eight rebounds and scored 13 points. But he had his moments.
When asked how he felt about crowd “roars” in reaction to his dunks, he said, “To be honest with you, I only hear Kentucky fans, and yelling and spitting on us.”
Mihalich began his coaching career as an assistant at the famed DeMatha High School program. He recalled the late Al McGuire advising the players to use basketball rather than let the sport use them.
“I always remembered that, and I took it to mean you’re going to have a lot of great experiences in this game,” he said. “Traveling not just the whole country, but traveling the world. And meeting great people. The experiences will be endless.”
Mihalich saw playing Kentucky as an experience to cherish. “This is one of those special experiences for all of our kids,” he said.
When it comes to coaching, the apples did not fall far from the coaching tree for Mihalich. The three of the Hofstra coach’s sons are also in the profession.
Joe Mihalich Jr., is an assistant coach at Penn. Matt Mihalich is director of basketball operations at Hartford and Tony Mihalich is an assistant coach on the men’s and women’s track teams at Iona.
Kentucky vs. North Carolina
5:45 p.m. Saturday in Las Vegas (CBS-27)