As Fort Wayne’s Xzavier Taylor arrived at the Kentucky bench in pursuit of a loose ball, he ran into John Calipari.
What happened next might be unprecedented in college basketball. Taylor got a hand on the ball, but couldn’t save it to a teammate. Calipari raised his arms to motion Kentucky should be awarded possession.
Then Taylor recoiled as if taking a charge and fell to the court.
A charging call on a coach?
“I don’t know what happened,” Calipari said after Kentucky’s 86-67 victory on Wednesday night. “I don’t even know. Somebody said, ‘You hit him?’
“I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
No charge was called. Fort Wayne was awarded possession.
Wenyen Gabriel smiled a Cheshire Cat smile when asked about Taylor’s flop.
“I didn’t see all that,” he said. “I saw it, but I couldn’t see what really happened.”
Teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander acknowledged seeing Taylor fall.
“I don’t even worry about stuff like that,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I don’t know what he was trying to do.”
Fort Wayne, which has been among the nation’s most prolific three-point shooting teams, made seven of its first 14 shots from beyond the arc. The Mastodons led with less than four minutes left in the first half.
Coincidentally or not, UK switched to a zone and Fort Wayne made only five of its remaining 23 three-point shots. Most were taken against a man-to-man, but the zone seemed to change the tenor of the game.
“We didn’t play well against the zone,” said Fort Wayne Coach Jon Coffman, who admitted being surprised by the zone. “I mean, no one zones us. I mean, we shoot it so well, no one ever zones us.”
Calipari credited the zone for making a difference.
“The zone kind of stymied them a little bit,” he said. “It’s nice we can go to that thing a little bit if we need to, but we’re still learning.”
A zone against a three-point shooting team might seem a scary tactic. Not so, Gilgeous-Alexander said.
“I wouldn’t say scary,” he said. “Us having so much length, I think (the idea of open shots is) an illusion. We make them think by going to a zone that they can shoot. When they realize how long we are, we don’t really give up threes. We don’t give up anything in a zone.”
Although he contributed career-high points and rebounds, Nick Richards said he’s still not in love with playing in the post.
“It’s still not my first option,” he said. “But my team needs me to do that right now. I’ll sacrifice. Whatever my team needs me to do to get wins.”
Nor did Richards sound enamored with playing a zone defense.
“Do I like playing zone?” he said, repeating the question. “Um, not really. It’s not something that people do in the NBA. It’s not where I try to get my defensive level to. But in college, if it’s what we need to do to win, then I guess I have to do it.”
In playing the University of Illinois at Chicago on Sunday, Kentucky completes a span of seven games in 17 days. The victory over Fort Wayne was UK’s sixth game in 13 days. Calipari has questioned playing so many games in such a compact period of time.
After UIC, it will take 38 days for UK to play its next seven games.
Incidentally, in an effort to reduce the stress of travel and give players more recovery time, the NBA eliminated the four-games-in-five-nights portion of its schedule this season. Last season’s NBA schedule included 20 so-called “fours-in-fives.” This season marks the first time in NBA history there are none.
The NBA also reduced instances of games on back-to-back nights from an average of 16.3 per team to 14.4. That’s an all-time low.
Since the 2014-15 season, the total of four-in-fives have dropped from 70 to zero, and back-to-backs reduced by 26 percent, NBA.com reported.
Illinois-Chicago at Kentucky
6 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network)