Following in the long line of point guard greats under John Calipari has its positives – obviously there’s a formula for success – but it isn’t always a smooth, one-way conveyor belt to the NBA.
As Marquis Teague can tell you, it isn’t easy following the likes of Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight. Despite averaging 10.8 points, 4.5 assists and 2.4 rebounds – as a freshman! – Teague has experienced his share of ups and downs this season.
It turns out those struggles were greatly exaggerated.
“He’s playing in Kentucky for the second-ranked team in the country that probably could have easily been undefeated,” Calipari said. “Everybody’s saying he’s a disappointment. What are you talking about? The kid is doing fine.”
The kid, when he plays like he did Saturday, is pretty good.
Teague scored 17 points, dished out four assists and grabbed three rebounds. He made six of his 10 shots, knocked down four free throws and turned the ball over just two times.
The freshman’s ball control was particularly important against a pressure-based, matchup zone.
“This was a hard game to be a point guard,” Calipari said. “That zone they were running was confusing and we had to do four or five different things to get the ball where we were trying to get it.”
The freshman guard exploited the gaps of South Carolina’s zone and thrived finishing in traffic. After the game, Calipari said he’s the best layup shooter in the country. He just wants Teague to do more of it.
“I just try to attack the rim and try to go finish, go to the hoop strong and try to dunk it if I can,” Teague said. “I like contact. I used to play football a lot so I like contact and I like being physical.”
Since his early season turnover problems, Teague has actually played quite well. Beginning with the Radford game, Teague cut his turnovers down, managed the team and scored when needed. He’s on pace to finish among the program’s single-season assists leaders.
But when his turnovers re-appeared the last few games and his shot selection fell off against Louisville and Arkansas-Little Rock, people began to worry again. Is Teague going to turn a corner like his predecessors, they wondered.
“He’s a freshman, he’s played in 16 college games – 15 up until this game – and because he wasn’t playing perfect, he had four-and-a-half assists to three turnovers (people worry). That ain’t bad,” Calipari said. “If he passed it a couple more times, he’d be averaging six assists to three turnovers, which is perfect.”
But with great predecessors come great expectations.
Rose is an NBA MVP and led his team to the national championship in college. Evans won NBA Rookie of the Year after one year with Calipari. Wall was the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. And Knight led his team to the Final Four.
It’s easy for Kentucky fans to see that success and expect it to continue for Teague. Calipari says give him time.
“I expect more out of him, but you shouldn’t,” Calipari said. “I’m coaching him. He’s doing fine. What he did today, he’s capable of doing, but he’s got to play within what we’re saying and how we need him to play.”
Teague doesn’t appear to be bothered by the expectations. Judging by Saturday night, he’s starting to meet them.
“I don’t take it as pressure,” Teague said. “I just want to continue to listen to (Coach Cal) and continue to get better. I know when I make a mistake that I will hear it from him but he is just trying to get me better.”
Davis approaching blocks record
South Carolina guard Damien Leonard saw space. He saw the open hardwood, an open basket and time to take a shot. He got the ball at the 3-point line, set and fired. Out of nowhere, the ball was shot out of orbit.
Anthony Davis had struck again.
“He had one foot in the paint and still blocked my shot,” Leonard said. “I didn’t know he was going to block that.”
Davis tends to have that effect on the other team.
With seven more blocks Saturday, Davis sits in sole possession of sixth place on UK’s single-season blocks list with 74 swats. It’s only a matter of a game or two until he breaks the record, which is currently held by Andre Riddick and Melvin Turpin.
“I know I can’t block every shot but at least alter or contest shots really changes the whole mindset of the play,” Davis said. “If they come in the hole and they get their shot blocked once or twice, they’re probably not going to want to come back in and get it blocked again. It changes up the whole game plan and the sets they run.”
South Carolina, almost stubbornly, took it right at Davis in the second half. Time after time, Davis returned to sender.
“I think it gives me a challenge,” Davis said. “If guys keep coming at me, it gives me a chance to block shots. I don’t know what the game plan is if it’s to try to get me in foul trouble or let me block it and put it back up, but I look very forward to the challenge.”
Davis is blocking 14.6 percent of the shots taken against him, according to kenpom.com, the sixth-best mark in the country. Going into Sunday, only 49 teams(!!!) have more blocks than Davis, and he’s on pace to finish in the top 10 on UK’s career blocks list in just one season.
“When you get beat sometimes, you know he’s back there to help you,” Teague said. “He saves us a lot from getting scored on. I know when I try to shoot over him in practice it’s tough to do, so I know it’s tough for the opponents to do. If he’s not going to block, he’s definitely going to affect the shot.”
Kidd-Gilchrist ‘always good’
By Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s recent standards, he had a quiet afternoon Saturday.
The freshman forward, who averaged 17.0 points and 10.1 rebounds from the North Carolina game through the Louisville showdown, scored nine points, grabbed six rebounds and took just five shots in the win over North Carolina.
He was impressive nonetheless.
“To be honest with you, he’s always good,” Calipari said. “He always competes at a high level and goes after every rebound, every ball. He doesn’t’ command, he doesn’t whine about not getting the ball offensively. Like today, he had (five) shots. Are you kidding me? A kid that plays that hard.”