When Kentucky plays Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday night, UK fans might feel a bit of déjà Blue.
EKU Coach Dan McHale, a former student manager for UK, uses the same playing style that thrilled UK fans when Rick Pitino orchestrated it in the 1990s.
For example, the Colonels shoot a lot of three-pointers: on average, 22.6 per game. EKU has averaged 10 made three-pointers per game.
“That’s our game,” McHale said Tuesday. “It really is.”
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Eleven EKU players have made a three-pointer so far this season. The Colonels can boast quality as well as quantity, having shot 44.3 percent from beyond the arc.
McHale needed no reminding that Pitino used to call the three-point shot “the great equalizer.” EKU (7-2) figures to need an equalizer against No. 5 Kentucky.
“I’m not going to fight a conventional battle,” McHale said. “Whether it’s against Kentucky or it’s against Murray State or Belmont. We’re going to be a unique team to prepare for.”
As did Pitino at UK, McHale wants his players pressing and trapping and denying inbounds passes.
EKU has had issues defensively when opponents beat the full-court pressure.
“We’re not getting stops consistently in the half-court,” McHale said. “Once the half-court defense catches up to our full-court pressure, we’re going to be good. Really good. We’re just not there yet.”
McHale said EKU has a motto this season. “Our motto is ‘good for great,’” he said. “Pass up a good shot to get your teammate a great shot.”
So far, 59.3 percent of the Colonels’ baskets have been set up by an assist.
“It’s been really contagious,” McHale said.
It did not escape McHale’s attention that Eastern Kentucky will be playing a Kentucky team that’s coming off its first loss of the season.
“That’s life,” the EKU coach said. “There’s nothing I can do about it. (UCLA) kind of awakened the sleeping giant. I’m sure Cal’s gotten their attention over the past couple days. So we’re going to get their ‘A’ game. I think they’re going to try to knock us out early in this game. We just have to try to weather the storm.”
Alex Poythress shrugged when asked about being posterized by UCLA’s Prince Ali on Thursday. Ali drove down the lane and dunked over Poythress. Adding insult to a bruised ego, Poythress fouled out on the play.
After the game, UK Coach John Calipari said Poythress, as a veteran, should have conceded the dunk and been mindful of the larger goal of helping the Cats in a dire situation.
“I think it was more a reaction,” Poythress said of challenging Ali’s dunk. “I saw somebody going up and I just tried to block the shot. I forgot I had four fouls. You just have to be smart in a situation like that.”
As for being posterized, Poythress said, “You don’t worry about it. Next game. You move on from it.”
Calipari said Marcus Lee had not practiced since the UCLA game, but would try on Tuesday. Lee exited the UCLA game because of what UK said was a blow to the head.
After the game, Calipari said Lee experienced headaches and had a bloody nose.
When asked if Lee had experienced concussion symptoms, Calipari said, “I don’t know exactly what they’re talking about. I don’t have any idea.”
UK felt Lee’s absence against UCLA, Calipari said. The Cats missed the putbacks and hustle plays Lee can provide, the UK coach said.
All about the guards
Isaiah Briscoe showed a “great will to win” against UCLA, Calipari said.
Now, Briscoe must work to improve his shooting, Calipari added. Briscoe has made 23.1 percent of his three-point attempts and 45.2 percent of his free throws.
Jamal Murray must get to the free-throw line more (read: he’s avoiding contact rather than trying to add-ones). Murray is averaging 4.1 free throw attempts so far this season.
“You need to play like a big guard,” Calipari said he told Murray before the UCLA game. “That’s who you are.”
Murray’s only free throws came on an inadvertent foul while shooting a three-pointer, Calipari said.
Tyler Ulis seems 100-percent recovered from the hyper-extended right elbow he sustained against South Florida, Calipari said.
Bob Picozzi and Kara Lawson will call the game for ESPN2.