UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky's Nerlens Noel a victory for the defense

Kentucky's Nerlens Noel (3) blocked a shot by Ole Miss' Jarvis Summers (32) in the first half of the Kentucky at Ole Miss men's basketball game at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, Miss.,, on Jan. 29, 2013.  Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Kentucky's Nerlens Noel (3) blocked a shot by Ole Miss' Jarvis Summers (32) in the first half of the Kentucky at Ole Miss men's basketball game at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, Miss.,, on Jan. 29, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

His impact at Mississippi on Tuesday while taking only one shot spoke eloquently and persuasively about how defense, and defense alone, can lead to Kentucky victories.

But in response to media questions Friday, Noel tried to put into words how his record-setting 12 blocks helped UK beat the Rebels.

"Defense is something that's undervalued," he said. "It can change a whole game in significant ways. That was what my focus was the other night knowing I wasn't shooting the ball as much."

Noel missed his one shot. Seldom has offense meant so little for a game's most valuable player.

"On nights like that, you have to take 100 percent pride in your defense," Noel said, "and do the best for your team and find a way to be effective no matter what."

Noel broke the previous UK record of nine blocks.

After he picked up his fourth foul with 9:52 left, Noel blocked six more shots.

In this, Noel strayed from the script.

"Cal (UK Coach John Calipari) told me to stay cautious and they really needed me on the court," Noel said. "But I knew I wasn't going to be effective if I was just laying back and just letting them score."

Noel said it was "just my choice" to continue to aggressively protect UK's basket.

"I definitely took it to play smart," he said, "especially avoid contact when they came to the basket. I just anticipated what they were doing (by) trying to jump into my body. I definitely took a different angle ...

"I just did my best to stay away from contact so the referees didn't have to blow the whistle."

Calipari said he gave Noel a two-part message after the player picked up his fourth foul.

"You tell him you've got to play like you have three fouls. Just make sure you're aware."

Calipari found Noel's fourth foul ill-advised. Rather than commit the foul with so much time remaining in the game, Noel should have conceded the basket, the UK coach said.

"Two points doesn't hurt us," Calipari said. "You getting the fourth (foul) kills us."

Except it didn't.

"I was going to ride him out," Calipari said. "Because I know he's the one guy with the will to win on this team you've got to have on the floor. Or you don't win."

Heading into Saturday's game at Texas A&M, Noel is averaging seven blocks in Southeastern Conference play. Overall, he's blocked 95 shots.

Noel downplayed his chances of breaking Anthony Davis' school record of 186 blocks.

"I don't keep track," he said. "Some people tell me what the numbers are ... That's something I do want to break. (But) that's not really the focus of this team."

After Tuesday's game, Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway said that, from his perspective, Noel was a better shot blocker than Davis. Noel sidestepped a direct yea-or-nay comment.

"Nothing you can really talk about," he said. "I still have a long way to go. What I'm focused on is working on my game."

Jon Hood, a teammate of Davis' last season and Noel this season, suggested that Noel might be a more frustrating obstacle.

"Nerlens gives you a window and makes you think there's a shot there," he said. "And then erases it off the backboard. Anthony would just run in the lane with you and jump with you and hang in the air."

Conclusion: Noel is the more difficult puzzle to solve.

"Because you think you have a shot at it," Hood said, "and then here comes the flat top."

As for Noel being a better shot blocker than Davis, Hood advised caution. He noted the quality big men that Davis had to contend with: Cody Zeller, Thomas Robinson, Festus Ezeli, etc.

Noel has yet to face a high-level low-post scorer, Hood said.

"We have yet to go to Florida (Patric Young)," he said. Nor have the Cats faced Missouri (Alex Oriakhi).

Auburn's Rob Chubb had more success against Davis than he did against Noel. But, Hood suggested UK was better prepared for Chubb this season (Hint: the Auburn big man shoots over his left shoulder almost exclusively).

"So I wouldn't jump to any conclusions on who is better based on Anthony getting scored on last year," Hood said.

Of Nerlens Noel's UK record-breaking 12 blocks against Ole Miss: Seven were kept in play and recovered by UK; three were swatted out of bounds and two were recovered by the Rebels.

Half of Noel's 12 blocks against Ole Miss came after he picked up his fourth foul with 9:52 left in the game.

Since blocks became an official statistic in 1985, only 18 players in Division I have blocked more shots in a game than Noel's 12.

Noel's blocks per game in 13 non-conference games

Noel's blocks per game in seven conference games

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