In the past, John Calipari treated the idea of playing zone defense with the same enthusiasm as sucking on a lemon. Yet, Kentucky got good mileage out of playing zone at Missouri last weekend.
Doesn't Calipari love man-to-man defense?
"He loves to win even more," guard Andrew Harrison said.
When asked about zone defense as a regular part of Kentucky's approach the rest of the season, assistant Coach Orlando Antigua offered a cryptic response.
"Uh, we've been working on it a lot," he said to reporters Monday. "That's all I'll give you."
Antigua, who substituted for Calipari at the regular day-before-the-game news conference, noted that UK had worked on zone in past seasons. Calipari is good at tailoring strategies to best fit a team's strengths and weaknesses, he said.
"We have length and size," which could enhance a zone, Antigua said before adding, "One thing (is) you can't get enamored with thinking you don't have to work as hard as you would in man-to-man."
Trying too hard?
Willie Cauley-Stein is working hard to return to being a productive player, teammate Marcus Lee said. Foul trouble helped limit Cauley-Stein to a season-low seven minutes at Missouri.
Against SEC teams, Cauley-Stein is averaging 5.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Once likened to Anthony Davis as a shot blocker, Cauley-Stein is tied with Alex Poythress for the team league in blocks in league games.
"The last couple weeks, he's just gone at every big man thinking he had to score," Lee said, "He had to get back to the rotation. He's just been working his butt off trying to get back."
When asked if Cauley-Stein was pressing, Lee said, "That's just kind of how a player looks at himself. If he's not playing like he thinks he should be, he'll put in his head that he needs to get back in the game."
Antigua lauded how Andrew Harrison led Kentucky down the stretch in the harried final minutes at Missouri.
"The most important thing is he kept us organized," the coach said. "When they were trying to throw different things at us, he was able to make the right calls. He's starting to get the feel for what we need."
Opponents will note how Missouri took advantage of UK in transition, Antigua said. Opponents will prefer to exploit fast-break opportunities rather than face UK's size in a half-court setting.
"No question about it," he said. "I think everybody is going to try to test our transition defense. Once we get in the half-court, I think we have a pretty solid defense as a unit. We just have to get back and get people in front of us so we can contain them."
11 to 18
On his radio show, Calipari complained about Kentucky falling from No. 11 to No. 18 in The Associated Press poll. The drop came after UK lost at LSU.
Jim O'Connell, longtime college basketball editor for The AP, offered a possible explanation.
"I think the SEC is to blame," he wrote in an email. "Teams from the Big Ten and Big 12 keep beating each other and the voters don't punish the losers. Kansas drops two spots after losing to Texas?
"With only Florida also in the Top 25, there aren't any chances for Kentucky to make a move. And any loss in the SEC is going to hurt."
UK's last two opponents — LSU and Missouri — made 50 percent or more of their shots. Calipari said he'd bet that hadn't happened before in his coaching career. "I can't imagine it happened," he said.
It hadn't happened earlier in his five seasons as UK coach. It did not happen in his nine seasons as Memphis coach.
But it did happen — once — in his eight seasons as UMass coach.
Brian Henry, Associate Director of Media Relations at UMass, said it happened in Calipari's first season as a college coach: 1988-89.
On Feb. 18, 1989, Duquesne shot 50 percent (42 of 84) in beating UMass 105-74. Five days later, Penn State shot 56.6 percent (30 of 53) in beating the Minutemen 90-71.
Two of the nation's eight best teams in blocking shots will be in Rupp Arena.
Kentucky ranks eighth nationally with an average of 6.7 blocks.
Ole Miss ranks sixth with an average of 6.8 blocks. The Rebels lost their career leader in blocks (Reginald Buckner) after last season. Aaron Jones, who torn an anterior cruciate ligament against UK last season, leads the Rebels with an average of 2.4 blocks.
Joe Davis and Dino Gaudio will call the game for ESPNU.