In Kentucky’s 77-70 road loss to the Georgia Bulldogs on January 8, the ‘Cats were roundly criticized for not displaying the toughness needed to beat a physical team possessing both length and bulk. Kentucky appeared to play “soft” when confronted with the aggressive Bulldogs, oftentimes looking for the whistle, instead of playing aggressively themselves, and inviting contact.
Today, through looking at how the ‘Cats reacted to Georgia in their earlier road contest, we are going to determine what the ‘Cats need to do differently in order to come out victorious over the Bulldogs on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN), wiping the bad taste of a bad loss out of their mouths.
The first aspect of the loss that jumps off the stat sheet (and is reiterated by watching the game tape) is the fact that the Dogs took UK out of its offense with their physicality — The ‘Cats handed out only nine assists on 27 made shots, an assist percentage of 33.3%, well below UK’s season assist percentage of 48.5%.
The goal of any defense is to make it as difficult as possible for the opposition to run its offense, something UK coach John Calipari refers to as running their “stuff.” And in this game, the Bulldogs bullied the ‘Cats into taking bad shots (outside the realm of their offense), resulting in a putrid 38.0% field goal percentage overall (UK makes 45.9% of their shots on the year), and 41.2% of their two-points shots, well below UK’s season average of 48.7%.
Compounding matters, the Bulldogs laughed off UK’s defensive efforts by sporting a 54.5% assist percentage (12 assists on 22 makes), and shot a respectable 44.9% from the field overall, while making 47.5% of their two-point attempts. Numbers which tell us the ‘Cats defense did not disrupt the offensive game-plan of Mark Fox’s club.
What the ‘Cats need to do Saturday — UK cannot allow the Dogs to push them out, away from the basket, when initiating their offense. UK point guard Brandon Knight has to simply play through the inevitable contact he will experience while running the offense, and when called for, drive around his defender when being played tightly on the perimeter. Also, the ‘Cats ball reversal was non-existent versus the Dogs, a fact which resulted in fewer open looks for UK.
Defensively, the ‘Cats have to disrupt in the passing lanes, and ball deny star Dogs Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins. The ‘Cats, in order to take UGA out of their offense, must pressure point guard Gerald Robinson, and give help if Robinson opts to drive the ball to the rim.
Making life in the lane easy for the Dogs in this game is the fact that UK did not aggressively pursue the blocked shot. Kentucky, one of the top shot blocking teams in the nation, blocked only three shots on the afternoon, a 6.1% block rate — On the year, the ‘Cats are second in the nation with a block percentage of 11.6%. Again, a lack of aggressiveness by Kentucky down on the blocks allowed Georgia to play free and easy in the lane.
Although the ‘Cats were out-rebounded in the Georgia game by four boards (41-37), UK rebounded on the defensive end quite well, grabbing 76.7% of the Dogs misses (3rd highest percentage of the year). But on the offensive end, and perhaps due to players being out of position due to the UGA disruption of UK’s offense, the Wildcats grabbed only 29.2% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, well below their season average of 36.8%.
UK’s Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson, two of the leading rebounders in the SEC, snagged an acceptable combined total of 21 boards. But UK’s gang-rebounding was not in good form, evidenced by the combined three rebounds corralled by DeAndre Liggins and Doron Lamb in a combined 67 minutes of action.
What the ‘Cats need to do Saturday — Throughout most of the season, Josh Harrellson is the only ‘Cat who has treated nearly every shot as a miss. In other words, as the ball travels through the air to the basket, Harrellson is putting a body on the opponent, blocking out and gaining position before the ball ever reaches the rim. In order for the ‘Cats to compete on the boards with bigger, bulkier opponents, the five players on the floor wearing blue must treat every shot as a miss, allowing them to gain the position needed to rebound the ball effectively.
UK’s defensive rotation (or lack thereof) versus UGA is one of the reasons the ‘Cats did not block the number of shots they are accustomed to blocking. In Saturday’s game, the ‘Cats need to communicate and react — Communicate with one another on their man’s intentions, and react to the drive by rotating to give help. That, along with a more aggressive defensive posture, should make lane life much more difficult for the Bulldogs.
Many Kentucky fans point to the foul shooting disparity clearly evident in UK’s earlier match-up with UGA as a reason for UK’s seven-point loss. And yes, the Bulldogs made 30-34 free throws off 24 UK fouls, while the ‘Cats made only 10-16 charity stripe attempts off 14 Georgia fouls.
What the ‘Cats need to do Saturday — The old adage goes like this: The aggressive team gets the calls; the aggressive team gets to the free throw line.
And that, in a nutshell, is what UK must take away from their earlier defeat at the hands of the Dogs.
GEORGIA AT UK GAME PREVIEW
Meet the Bulldogs (14-5, 3-3, RPI 47)
Leading the way for the Bulldogs in scoring is All-SEC forward Trey Thompkins (6-10) with 17.6 points per game. Thompkins also leads the Dogs with 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest. Last time out versus UK, Thompkins had 25 points (11-12 free throws), seven rebounds and five turnovers.
Junior guard Travis Leslie, who put-up 15 points and eight rebounds to go along with four assists against the ‘Cats in early January, is next in scoring for UGA with 15.0 points per game on 52.1% shooting. Leslie also averages 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Gerald Robinson, the Dogs junior point guard, checks-in with 13.7 points per game (50.0% field goal shooting), 4.2 assists per contest, and 1.1 steals per game. Versus UK in the earlier contest, Robinson scored 17 big points (9-10 free throws), handed out two assists and grabbed two rebounds.
Dustin Ware, a 5-11 junior guard is putting up 7.6 points per game on the year, making a team-leading 41.7% of his three-point tries (30-72). Ware also hands out 3.8 assists per game, and leads the team with 1.2 steals per game. Last game versus the ‘Cats, Ware scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds.
Big 6-8 senior forward Jeremy Price is averaging 8.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. In UGA’s win in Athens, Price scored only two points, but led the Dogs with 10 rebounds.
Another 6-8 senior, this time Chris Barnes, is averaging 3.9 points per contest, as well as 3.9 rebounds per game. He scored five points and snagged five rebounds against the Cats in their January 8 match-up.
Coach Calipari on the revenge factor heading into the game against Georgia:
“I don’t know. I don’t think much at all to be honest with you. I just think you’re trying to win a league game and so are they. It’ll be a hard-fought game, they’re a good team; they already beat us and they beat us handily. They mushed us, really. We’ll see if we got better, that’s what it’ll be. It’ll be a test of, have we gotten better, have we gotten tougher, can we play through bumps, and can we physically score in the post when they’re letting us shoot it, can we make a basket from two feet? Those things, those will be what we’ll see in this game.”
‘Cats in the SEC
In five SEC games this season, Kentucky’s individual numbers look like this:
Terrence Jones: 21.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Jones is making 45.2% of his shots from the floor, and 40.0% of his three-point attempts (6-15).
Brandon Knight: 15.8 points per game, as well as 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Knight is making 44.4% of his overall shots, and 43.3% of his trey tries (13-30).
Darius Miller: 12.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Miller is shooting 49.0% from the floor, and making 38.9% of his threes (7-18).
Doron Lamb: 12.2 points and 3.4 assists per game. Lamb is also grabbing 2.2 rebounds per contest, and making 41.7% of his shots from the field, as well as 35.0% of his trey attempts (7-20).
DeAndre Liggins: 6.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Ligs is third on the team with 2.8 assists per game, while making 34.4% of his shots from the floor, 36.4% of his three-point tries (4-11).
Josh Harrellson: 3.8 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds per contest (3.8 offensive boards). Harrellson is making 37.5% of his field goal tries, and only 14.3% of this free throws (1-7).
Game time is 4:00 EST on ESPN.
Beginning next Wednesday, February 2nd, I will be joining Norm Haney and BC Thomas to talk Kentucky Athletics every Wednesday from 5-6 pm EST on 1340 WBGN in Bowling Green. Of course the show will be streamed live over the Internet. We will have an impressive array of guests visiting with us each week. And this summer the show will be available on radios throughout the state of Kentucky. I will have broadcast links and more information on each show as we go forward.
Ken’s Cats Corner: At South Carolina Preview