UK Men's Basketball

Rebounding continues to trouble Cats

Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel (3) blocked the shot of Morehead State's Jason Holmes. Eagles Coach Sean Woods said his team was able to rack up offensive rebounds due to UK's focus on blocks.
Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel (3) blocked the shot of Morehead State's Jason Holmes. Eagles Coach Sean Woods said his team was able to rack up offensive rebounds due to UK's focus on blocks. Herald-Leader

Speaking of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest, Morehead State Coach Sean Woods credited his team's 16 offensive rebounds Wednesday night to Kentucky's generosity.

"Because they all want to be shot blockers," Woods said in explaining the Cats' rebounding problem.

The Eagles became the latest opponent to stuff themselves with offensive rebounds against Kentucky. Woods made no prediction about LIU Brooklyn enjoying similar gluttony on the boards at UK Friday. But he made it sound like there were no quick fixes for UK Coach John Calipari.

Opponents will feast "till he gets control of the defense, and they get more disciplined," Woods said. "Who blocks (shots). Who rebounds (shots).

"That's what we wanted to exploit."

Morehead State's 16 offensive rebounds seemed like a lot, but they merely represented more of the same. UK's first three opponents averaged 15.5 offensive rebounds, a statistic skewed by Maryland's surreal 28.

"We will keep analyzing it and breaking it down and showing them on tape," Calipari said. "And, obviously, we've got to get better. We can't give up 16 offensive rebounds."

UK players offered several thoughts on why Morehead State rebounded well.

"Probably (being in) the wrong position," said Nerlens Noel, who led Kentucky with a career-high 11 rebounds. "That's something that we've been working on. Just trying to be at all different spots of the court when the shot goes up."

Fellow freshman Alex Poythress chose all-of-the-above when asked if Morehead State tried harder to rebound or UK players got out of position.

"Probably a little bit of both," he said. "They were getting running starts. A lot of us were ball watching. Just watching the ball go up, stuff like that. But it's something we're working on in practice and we're getting better at it."

Poythress noted how UK had put an emphasis on rebounding since the Maryland game.

LIU Brooklyn, 0-3, has averaged 14 offensive rebounds so far. In those three games, the Blackbirds were outrebounded by an average of 37.0-40.7. Maryland enjoyed a 45-33 rebounding advantage against LIU Brooklyn.

When calling for improved rebounding, Calipari hardly left out any Cats. He noted how Kyle Wiltjer needed to get more "tough rebounds." He noted long rebounds. "Long, bouncing balls that we don't get, those are guards," he said. "Those aren't our big guys."

But then there are the rebounds around the basket. "Those are our big people," Calipari said.

Guard Archie Goodwin suggested that scoring can improve Poythress' production on the boards and elsewhere.

"We know that Alex feeds off of us," Goodwin said. "So if we give him the ball and he gets it going, it's going to do wonders for us on the defensive end. He's going to rebound more. He's going to be more assertive and aggressive."

Of course, size isn't a problem for Kentucky. The Cats start two 6-foot-10 players (Wiltjer and Noel), plus the sturdy Poythress (6-7, 239).

As Morehead State center Drew Kelly said of the Cats, "They're very long, very athletic. They hardly have to jump and they're there at the rim."

The Eagles came to Rupp Arena with the intention to rebound well. To only be outrebounded 37-35 by Kentucky represented something of a triumph.

"All week we worked on really boxing out, really getting into guys," Kelly said. "It was hard fought. So I guess from a rebounding standpoint, to only be down by two, you could say we're proud of that."

More than once, Calipari has argued that the attempt to block shots isn't Kentucky's problem. But when a shot blocker goes after a shot, teammates must rotate into position to rebound.

The UK coach saluted Morehead State's zeal and experienced savvy. LIU Brooklyn definitely has the latter with four starters returning from a team that won the Northeast Conference and finished with a 25-9 record last season.

"These dudes, it's like they're in February right now," he said of the Eagles. "(UK's early-season opponents) have their teams back. They're hyped up.

"We're not there. We're just trying to get better."

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