UK Men's Basketball

‘We’re not the same team.’ Kentucky’s failure to force turnovers a big reason why.

What does Kentucky want to take from the loss at Tennessee?

Kentucky basketball freshman guard Immanuel Quickley talks about the Wildcats' 71-52 loss at Tennessee on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Now 13-3 in SEC play, UK travels to Oxford to face Ole Miss on Tuesday at 9 p.m.
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Kentucky basketball freshman guard Immanuel Quickley talks about the Wildcats' 71-52 loss at Tennessee on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Now 13-3 in SEC play, UK travels to Oxford to face Ole Miss on Tuesday at 9 p.m.

Kentucky’s opponents in the last month or so have been turning the ball over fewer times. Therefore, as logic would dictate, UK has been scoring fewer points off turnovers.

In the last seven games, opponents have averaged 8.4 turnovers. UK has averaged 10.9 points off those turnovers

That’s a dramatic change from the season’s first 22 games when opponents averaged 14.7 turnovers, and Kentucky averaged 18.9 points off turnovers.

In the first halves of last week’s games, Arkansas and Tennessee turned the ball over two and three times, respectively. Tennessee finished with five turnovers. Arkansas had seven. Those two UK opponents had a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio: 29 assists, 12 turnovers.

Kentucky assistant basketball coach Tony Barbee says UK needs to get back to being disruptive on defense. The Wildcats lost 71-52 at Tennessee on Saturday, March 2, 2019. They travel to Ole Miss on Tuesday at 9 p.m.

In the last 14 halves, UK opponents have had six or fewer turnovers 10 times.

Not good, John Calipari said on an SEC teleconference Monday.

“When we’re aggressive and we get after it, we’ll turn you over,” he said. “When we’re letting teams throw it wherever they want, and not truly putting pressure on the ball for whatever reason, we’re not the same team.

“We’ve just got to get the guys to understand: for us to be successful, here’s what we’ve got to look like.”

That seems especially true with Tuesday night’s game at Ole Miss. The Rebels’ Breein Tyree and Terence Davis are the top-scoring backcourt duo in the Southeastern Conference. Their combined scoring average is 33.8 points. Incidentally, Auburn’s Bryce Brown and Jared Harper are together averaging 31.2 points.

Assistant coach Tony Barbee, who substituted for Calipari at Monday’s regular day-before-the-game interview session, said that Kentucky’s poor defense played a part in Saturday’s 71-52 loss at Tennessee.

“Tennessee was able to do what they wanted, run what they wanted, get the ball to where they wanted,” Barbee said. After reminding reporters that the Vols are good (No. 5 in The Associated Press’ new top 25 poll), Barbee added, “We haven’t been what we’ve been defensively. We have to get back to that because that’s a key to our success. Being very disruptive and getting points off turnovers. . .. . We had some guys back up defensively.”

Kentucky basketball freshman Keldon Johnson talks to the media about the Wildcats’ 71-52 loss at Tennessee on Saturday, March 2, 2019. UK dropped from No. 4 to No. 7 in the current AP Top 25. The Cats are at Ole Miss on Tuesday.

Keldon Johnson acknowledged that UK’s defense hasn’t been as stifling lately. He labeled the defense at Tennessee as “pretty bad” and said the Cats needed to “turn up the intensity.”

That point guard Ashton Hagans keys Kentucky’s defense is well documented. Barbee said Ashton’s relative lack of experience showed in his matchup with Jordan Bone at Tennessee on Saturday.

Bone had career-highs in points (27) and three-point baskets (five). He also had zero turnovers in 35 minutes. Afterward Calipari tipped his metaphorical cap by saluting how Bone played “downhill” throughout the game.

Which Barbee interpreted for reporters Monday as “constantly on the attack.”

Hagans scored five points. He had one steal, which has become his trademark. It was only his second steal in the last four games (135 minutes).

Of Bone’s performance, Barbee said, “that’s what you get from an experienced guard in college basketball. And Ashton played like a freshman.”

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When asked what he saw at Tennessee that defined experience, Barbee said, “You see a group of guys or a player who doesn’t get rattled. Everybody’s going to experience adversity, and you can see a younger player who gets rattled, doesn’t play up to his best.”

Of course, experience is only one factor in a game. And it’s not automatic that experience will win out.

Bone put the two Kentucky-Tennessee games into an interesting perspective. “We were never rattled,” he said of the rematch. “The last game in Rupp (Arena), we got a little rattled. We got away from our game. So I think that was the biggest thing.”

Hagans gains experience in the crucible of facing talented and experienced point guards in most SEC games. Teammate and fellow freshman Immanuel Quickley was not ready to concede experience to the opposition.

“Honestly, we’re kind of sophomores now when you think about it,” he said. “Because we’ve been here for about a year, now.”

Barbee suggested that Hagans, like the typical UK player, aspires to play in the NBA, where the nightly competition will be elite. Besides, Barbee added pointedly, other star UK freshman point guards have handled more experienced rivals.

Tuesday

No. 6 Kentucky at Mississippi

When: 9 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: Kentucky 24-5 (13-3 SEC), Mississippi 19-10 (9-7)

Series: Kentucky leads 106-13

Last meeting: Kentucky won 96-78 on Feb. 28, 2018, in Rupp Arena.

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Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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