Instead of counting sheep as he falls asleep, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said that lately he’s been counting threes.
That’s because UK plays at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night.
Vandy (8-7, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) takes a large percentage of its shots — 46.1 — from three-point range. That percentage has risen to 52.9 percent in SEC games.
For comparison’s sake, Kentucky, which makes drives to the basket a foundation piece of its offense, has taken 31.4 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. That percentage hasn’t varied (31.5) against SEC teams.
“I’ve watched enough tape, I’m, like, I’ll be going to sleep seeing three-balls being thrown all over the place,” Calipari said Monday.
As Vandy has multiple perimeter threats (four players are shooting 39 percent or better from beyond arc), so, too, does Kentucky have the capability of matching guard against guard. UK’s victory over Arkansas on Saturday included a four-guard lineup. Mychal Mulder played forward.
“I love the fact he fought (and) didn’t give an inch,” Calipari said. “Like, he battled. He wasn’t afraid.”
Calipari pointed out that foul trouble for Wenyen Gabriel led to Mulder playing forward.
“That’s why we did it,” Calipari said before adding, “It’s nice to know you have one more option.”
Mulder played forward in his second season at Vincennes University. He said the four-guard lineup spreads out opposing defenses, allowing more space for drives by teammates such as Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox.
At the other end, Mulder or any other fourth guard must defend the opposing team’s power forward. In Arkansas’ case, it was Arlando Cook or Jaylen Barford.
“It’s usually a guy you should be quicker than,” Mulder said. “They’ll be a little bit bigger than you. But you’ll have the advantage in speed and quickness.”
So far, no opponent has stung Kentucky from three-point range. UCLA’s 10 three-pointers are the most UK has surrendered. Overall, opponents have made only 29.7 percent three-point shots against the Cats. That ranks as the 20th-best three-point defense in the country.
But Calipari is wary. For one thing, most teams are happy with an opponent “settling” for perimeter shots.
“It’s hard to stop anybody from shooting threes,” Calipari said. “Just think about it. If a team wants to come down and take 22-footers, you know, it’s just hard.”
Then Calipari sung a familiar refrain: If Vandy makes 20 threes, Kentucky might be resigned to offer congratulations for a Commodore victory and move on to the next game (at home against Auburn on Saturday).
Only four SEC teams have made 20 three-pointers since the rule went into effect 30 years ago. It hasn’t been done 1997.
While 20 three-point baskets might be a way to exaggerate Vandy’s capability, it’s not a wild stretch. The Commodores combined to make 30 threes in victories at LSU and against Auburn to start their SEC schedule.
UK is largely dependent on Malik Monk for long-range shooting (10 of 19 from three-point range versus SEC teams).
Vandy has more options. Monk is the only UK player who has made more than five three-pointers in the first three SEC games.
Vandy has four players who have made six or more in the first three SEC games: Matthew Fisher-Davis (12), Riley LaChance (eight), Luke Kornet (six) and freshman point guard Payton Willis (six).
No. 6 Kentucky at Vanderbilt
When: 7 p.m.
Records: UK 13-2 (3-0 SEC); Vanderbilt 8-7 (2-1)
Series: UK leads 141-47
Last meeting: Vanderbilt won 74-62 on Feb. 27, 2016, in Nashville
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1