Men's Basketball

Confident Karl-Anthony Towns embraces low-post role

Kentucky Wildcats forward Karl-Anthony Towns (12) dunked on Montana State Bobcats forward Ryan Shannon (20) as the University of Kentucky played Montana State in Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Sunday, November 23, 2014. This is second half college basketball action. UK won 86-28. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats forward Karl-Anthony Towns (12) dunked on Montana State Bobcats forward Ryan Shannon (20) as the University of Kentucky played Montana State in Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Sunday, November 23, 2014. This is second half college basketball action. UK won 86-28. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Maybe a full name reflects a more complete game.

That's what Karl-Anthony Towns suggested when a reporter noted the seeming change in the Kentucky freshman's offensive approach. In the summer, he swished three-pointers while limiting his play around the basket to offensive rebounding. In basketball parlance, he looked like a "stretch four." But as the season began, assistant coach Kenny Payne said Towns should concentrate on adding a low-post game.

"In the summer, I guess I was Karl Towns," the freshman said after UK beat Montana State Sunday night. "Now, we're having Karl-Anthony Towns. So I guess we had to switch out the game a little bit."

A bright smile crossed Towns' face. He seemed to like the idea of adjusting and improving even though he came to Kentucky with plenty of recruiting laurels upon which to rest.

"I'm trying to be the most complete player I can be," he said. "Anytime anyone asks me the question (about how he'd like to improve), I always say, 'everything.' I want to be the best offensive player. I want to be the best defensive player. I want to be the best in-shape (player). I want to do everything I can to help this team."

As if to remind everyone that he still could, Towns made a face-the-basket shot against Montana State. But he insisted that he's comfortable being a low-post hub, a role big men sometimes resist.

"You know, I'm just having a ball being in the paint," he said. "I'm trying to make that my home. ... I've always had that in my repertoire. Just do what I can. Like they say, if it's not broke, don't fix it. My post game has definitely been very nice to me."

Having made only nine of 25 shots in the first four games (36-percent accuracy), Towns hit four of six attempts in the 86-28 rout of Montana State. He insisted he was unfazed by the previous misses.

"I never dwindle my confidence any time I miss a shot," he said. "I've always been (of the mind that) scorers never have a bad day. They just keep shooting. In my mind, that's all I'm thinking. Even if I miss a shot, I miss a layup, just keep shooting. They're giving you the ball for a reason."

Towns credited his father, also named Karl, for making him resilient.

"My dad always put it in me: Make sure mentally I'm always strong," Towns said. "The game is 90-percent mental (and) 10-percent physical. So I'm trying to be as mentally strong as possible."

Given the attention always paid to scoring, Towns' contributions on defense might be a surprise. Through five games, he's the runaway leader in blocks on a team with many candidates for that distinction. His six blocks against Montana State increased his early-season total to 18, or double that of second-place Willie Cauley-Stein, a member of the Southeastern Conference's All-Defensive team last season.

"In high school, I always felt I was a good shot blocker," Towns said. "I just always took pride in trying to make sure the rim was always mine. Protected the home."

Again, Towns credited his father, who played college basketball for Monmouth.

"I always protect the kingdom at all costs," Towns said. "No one comes into the kingdom without having a guard come up to them."

UK's defense limited Montana State to 19.7-percent shooting accuracy. The Bobcats became the second UK opponent in the last three games to make less than 20 percent of its shots.

The 12 blocks against Montana State increased Kentucky's team total to 49. The school record for a season is 344 (2011-12). As teammate Devin Booker said after Sunday's game, the Cats want to be remembered as a historically good defensive team.

Like Towns, the Cats want to be forever improving.

"Every day, we're working not only to get to a high level, but surpassing that level," Towns said. "Every day, we step into practice, we have one goal in mind: that is to be the best defensive team. Offensively, we're so talented, you really shouldn't have to worry about that too much."

'Classic' concludes

UK concludes its Cawood Ledford Classic with a game against Texas-Arlington Tuesday night. The Cats have won the first three games in the event (against Grand Canyon, Buffalo and Montana State) by an average of 39 points.

UT Arlington brings a 3-1 record into the game. Victories came at Bradley (86-75) and Grand Canyon (66-64) and at home against Houston Baptist (87-69). The Mavericks lost 74-68 to Buffalo.

Unlike Montana State (2-for-23), UT Arlington presents a threat from three-point range. The Mavs made 13 three-point shots in beating Houston Baptist Saturday. That made the team 37 of 87 (42.5-percent accuracy) through the first four games.

Senior guard Jamel Outler made a career-high seven threes against Houston Baptist. He ranks eighth on the school's career list with 134 treys.

Sophomore guard Drew Charles made four of seven shots from beyond the arc on Saturday.

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