UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky basketball notes: Cats’ guards adapt quickly to game’s new rules

Kentucky guard Jamal Murray (23) dove for the ball in a scramble with Duke guard Derryck Thornton on Nov. 16, 2015, in Chicago.
Kentucky guard Jamal Murray (23) dove for the ball in a scramble with Duke guard Derryck Thornton on Nov. 16, 2015, in Chicago. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

Duke’s Grayson Allen can serve as Exhibit A in how well Kentucky’s guards are adapting to college basketball’s much-discussed new rules.

Against Kentucky last week, Allen made only two of 11 shots and scored six points. He had one assist and four turnovers.

Against Duke’s other four opponents this season, Allen has made 34 of 58 shots (58.6 percent) and averaged 29 points. His assist-to-turnover ratio is almost two-to-one (15 assists, eight turnovers).

“Our guards have done a tremendous job adjusting to the new rules of no hands and staying in front,” said assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for John Calipari at Monday’s news conference. “We’re really happy with that part of it.”

Not that the Cats, like all players everywhere, have found the adjustment to the new rules easy.

Forward Marcus Lee said big men are still adjusting. The NCAA has made more than 25 rules changes, the most well known being shortening the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds, and the main thrust being to reduce physical play.

Hand checks on the perimeter are disallowed. A low-post defender can put his forearm on the offensive player’s back. But if the offensive player turns and faces the basket, the forearm — or “arm bar” in basketball parlance — must be removed.

“That affects every basketball player,” Lee said. “We’re used to bumping, pushing … being rough. Essentially, it’s taking out the roughness.”

Lee suggested that there’s some consolation in knowing players on every team must adapt.

“We realize it’s not just us,” he said. “Every big man in the country is trying to figure this out.”

The rules changes also contain a plus-and-minus: on offense an advantage, on defense an adjustment to make.

“Definitely,” Lee said of this yin and yang. “It’s definitely a give and take.”

Experience vs. talent?

Kentucky is the third-least experienced team in the country. Boston U. is tied with two other teams for most experience.

That suggests the possibility of an interesting contest of talent (UK) versus experience (Boston) in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night.

But Boston will be playing without its two leading scorers from last season: Cedric Hankerson (15.9 ppg) and Eric Fanning (15.4 ppg). Hankerson, who scored 24 points against UK last season, tore an anterior cruciate ligament in April and hasn’t played all season.

Boston U. Coach Joe Jones agreed with a reporter’s premise that early entry into the NBA Draft had closed the gap a bit for mid-majors with experienced rosters.

“I think that’s absolutely true,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons there’s more parity.”

However, UK Coach John Calipari’s ability to quickly mesh talented freshmen into effective units reopens the gap, Jones said.

“Coaching is getting the guys to believe in what you’re trying to get them to do,” the Boston U. coach said, “and then them going out and executing it. Kentucky does that as well as anybody, and that’s something not talked about enough.”

‘Heart and soul’

Louisville Trinity graduate Nate Dieudonne is an invaluable player for Boston U.

“He’s really the heart and soul of our team,” Jones said. “He’s our most tenacious player. He’s a spirited leader. He gives the team a ton of energy, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win.”

Dieudonne, a 6-foot-7 senior forward and four-year starter, is averaging 11.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.

“He’s a very good student … ,” Jones said. “He had two great internships this summer in Boston. He’s really in a good place and playing well.”

‘It’s a little different here’

A No. 1 ranking would seem to make it more difficult for Kentucky to preach the they’re-out-to-get-us sermon typically espoused by coaches.

“I think it’s a little different here,” Robic said. “You have that target on your back every single game whether you’re ranked one or something (less).

“I mean, it’s Kentucky. You’re getting every team’s best shot.”

Briscoe ‘a sponge’

Robic lauded Isaiah Briscoe’s willingness to be coached.

“He’s a sponge,” the UK assistant coach said. “He listens to everything you say. He’s really smart. He does what the coach asks.”

Briscoe, who averaged more than 20 points as a high school junior and senior, has embraced the importance of defense.

When asked about Briscoe’s willingness to defend, Robic said, “I think it surprised a lot of people. But he just plays so hard, and he’s smart and sees ahead.”

Etc.

▪  Calipari teams at UK ranked No. 1 have a record of 63-5. UK’s all-time record as a No. 1 team is 215-28, which includes victories in 60 of the last 63 such games. Of course, UK lost in its last game as No. 1: to Wisconsin in the Final Four.

▪  Tom Hart, ex-Cat John Pelphrey and sideline reporter Laura Rutledge will call the game for the SEC Network.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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