UK Men's Basketball

John Clay: Kentucky's offense is just starting to catch up to its scary-good defense

Kentucky Wildcats guard Devin Booker (1) hit one of his 5 three pointers for some of his 19 points as #1 Kentucky defeated Texas-Arlington 92-44  on Tuesday November 25, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats guard Devin Booker (1) hit one of his 5 three pointers for some of his 19 points as #1 Kentucky defeated Texas-Arlington 92-44 on Tuesday November 25, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Kentucky's defense is ridiculous and scary.

We all know that. You don't have to be a Basketball Bennie to see that, what with all the blocked shots and the opponents' missed shots and overall lack of, well, points.

Sunday afternoon at Rupp Arena, Montana State scored 11 points on the Kentucky defense during the first half on the way to an 86-28 loss to the top-ranked Cats.

Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, Texas-Arlington scored 12 points on the Kentucky defense during the first half on the way to a 92-44 loss to the top-ranked Cats.

You get the idea.

So what about the Kentucky offense?

"My job right now, and it's on me, is offensive execution," UK coach John Calipari said after Tuesday night's blowout. "You can say, 'Well, they're getting a lot in transition.' But if you guard you can go get it versus anybody. Either way, you've got to be able to create a good shot and a good rebound opportunity each time down the court."

And how have the outrageously deep, skilled and tall Cats done in that area of the game? So-so.

Before Tuesday, Kentucky had shot at least 50 percent just once in its first five games, a 57.6 percent effort in the win over Boston University on Friday.

In its 72-40 beatdown of Kansas, UK shot 43.1 percent. Even in Sunday's massacre of poor Montana State, the Cats shot just 43.3 percent from the floor.

Having watched other teams have some measure of success — a relative term — against Calipari's club by playing a 2-3 zone, UTA coach Scott Cross decided to put his normal man-to-man defense to the side and start in a zone Tuesday night.

It didn't work. Kentucky shot 61.3 percent from the floor, including six-of-13 from three, for a 55-12 halftime edge, the second-largest in school history.

"That's on me," said Cross, who went back to his man-to-man defense in the second half with a little better luck. UK shot 50 percent for the half (56.6 on the night), but the home team committed nine more turnovers, 18 for the game.

"We are so big, if we take great shots and we have opportunities with two or three guys around the basket, now with that defense, we're really tough," Calipari said. "That's what makes the difference, when your offense is really efficient. And we are right now. But still, we're not executing."

Some are starting to execute. Freshman sharpshooter Devin Booker was not so sharp starting the season, missing 10 of 11 three-pointers during his first three games. The last three games, Booker has made 12 of 17 from behind the arc, including five of six Tuesday night on the way to a career-high 19 points.

"I didn't change anything, really," Booker said. "They're just going in now."

They were going in from the foul line for Dakari Johnson, the sophomore center who was less than 50 percent from the foul line (12-of-25) during the first five games. Tuesday, Johnson hit his first seven free throws before finishing 12-of-14.

As to what changed, "I don't know, you'll have to ask him, but I'm happy for him," Calipari said. "He does want to play and he knows I'm not playing him at the end of games if he can't make free throws."

Alas, Johnson wasn't one of the three players made available for post-game interviews. Of the players who were, they agreed there was still plenty of upside on the offensive end.

"Coach tells us every day that we could be better offensively," said freshman Trey Lyles. "But it starts with our defense. That's what helps out our offense a lot. Getting stops on defense has given us more offensive opportunities."

"If we could really execute the offense better, we could be very, very deadly," said fellow freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. "But at the end of day, it's just, what, November? So we have time. We've got a lot of time to still garner more experience, especially us freshman, and learn the plays even better so we can execute even better."

Now that's scary.

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