- Tennessee Volunteers - January 24, 2017 - 9:00 PM EST - Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn. - ESPN
As the regular season draws closer, John Calipari is coaching his team through fewer drills and running them through more scrimmages.
Over the weekend, the Wildcats went through a cerebral-like walkthrough during both morning sessions before scrimmaging in the afternoons. On Sunday, squeezed in between some offensive and defensive work, the Cats scrimmaged for about an hour.
While the Blue-White Scrimmage featured plenty to like, it didn’t have nearly the competition and drama that Sunday’s scrimmage had at the Joe Craft Center. Below are some accounts from the scrimmage, including notes and observations.
- As he promised after the Blue-White Scrimmage, Coach Cal changed the teams a little bit to see how different guys played with and against each other. Starting for the White on Sunday was Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Kyle Wiltjer and Darius Miller. The Blue team had Jarrod Polson, Ryan Harrow, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Eloy Vargas.
- If you had the White team winning, you were wrong. The Blue team, led by monster performances from Kidd-Gilchrist and Jones, won 62-61. Blue led throughout the scrimmage before a late charge by the White. Trailing by two, Jones got Davis to bite on a pump fake on the perimeter for a 3-point free-throw opportunity with 0.4 seconds left.
- Teasing with his sophomore forward, Coach Cal put the pressure on Jones by telling everyone in the gym that there was no way Jones was going to hit more than one foul shot. Cal was joking, of course, but he was also challenging his big man. There’s a good chance Jones could be in a similar situation in a game, so Calipari wanted to see if he could come through in the clutch. To pile the pressure on him, Coach Cal had everybody leave the lane and stand out of bounds, underneath the basket. He told the players to stand in one spot if they thought he wouldn’t make more than one, another spot if they thought he’d make two and a different one if they thought he’d hit all three. The vote was pretty split but Jones calmly sank all three to win the scrimmage.
- Though Harrow can’t play in games this year, he played the entire scrimmage at the point guard position, opposite of Teague. His ability to perform well in practice is crucial for Teague’s development. Harrow did pretty well, but as Coach Cal pointed out to Harrow, Teague pushed him around physically. Harrow, however, has speed that Teague will rarely see during the season.
- These point totals are unofficial, but Kidd-Gilchrist far and away led all scorers with 27 points (more on that in just a second). Davis finished with 19, Jones had 15, Teague had 13 and Miller posted 10. Again, those are just by my pen and pad.
- The word “unbelievable” is used a little too often to describe a player’s effort or a certain play, but boy was Kidd-Gilchrist pretty close to that Sunday. He drove it to the basket. He shot it well. He defended. He rebounded. He dominated. He set the tempo of the scrimmage with seven quick points and never slowed down from there. When he gets the ball with a full head of steam going to the basket, he’s unstoppable. Kidd-Gilchrist performed so well in the paint that the White team started packing the lane to keep him out. He made the White pay by knocking down perimeter shots.
- Cal’s description of Kidd-Gilchrist after he got pinned by Davis, got the ball back and took it right back at Davis for a layup: “Wow, that kid just doesn’t stop. When you block it, he doesn’t give up. You better kick, push and shove to get the ball from him because if you don’t, you’re not getting the ball from him.”
- Kidd-Gilchrist’s performance overshadowed another impressive effort from Jones. He never slows down in practice; his motor is constantly going. In one two-minute span, Jones came up with two steals in the backcourt, blocked Wiltjer from behind on what appeared to be an easy layup, and then pulled a veteran move on Wiltjer when he sidestepped him and blocked his hook shot from behind. He didn’t give up on a single play during the hour-long scrimmage. As assistant coach John Robic said, “T-Jones, you’re hooping.”
- Miller continues to knock down the floater in the lane. There is simply no way of defending it. He makes it look so easy and smooth, but it takes a lot of work to develop the touch that he has to make it.
- Davis looked pretty good in the scrimmage as well. I’m willing to guess that 40 to 50 percent of his points this year are going to be purely off offensive rebounds and tip-back dunks. He needs to put on some muscle to develop a consistent back-to-the-basket, post-up game, but keeping him off the glass with those Spider-man arms is going to be impossible. Among his highlights were an out-of-bounds, two-hand dunk on Polson, and a crafty, right-hand hook shot from the baseline.
- The play that Cal liked the most from Davis, however, was one in which Davis forgot what to do. Instead of trying to improvise the play, Davis pump faked Vargas, drove and banked it off the glass as he ran over Jones for an “and one.” In past years it may have been ruled a charge, but the refs called it a blocking foul because of the new charge circle underneath the basket.
- Jones guarded Wiltjer for a good portion of the scrimmage. Jones won the battle, but it will benefit Wiltjer in the long run. As he does in just about every practice, Wiltjer hit another beautiful hook shot. After Wiltjer swished it, Cal blew his whistle and turned to the sideline. Looking at former coach Joe B. Hall, all he could do was shake his head. It takes a lot to amaze Coach Cal, but he knows there is now way of stopping the hook shot.
- Some examples of the competitive nature in these scrimmages: Jones frequently argued about the score until Calipari had one of the managers change it. When Cal stops a play and awards it to the wrong team, guys get upset. Nothing is on the line, but these players do not like to lose.
- A loose-ball transition opportunity for Lamb defined the unconventional offensive philosophy of Coach Cal. Lamb picked up a loose ball at half court and drove the length of the floor against two defenders and earned a foul. Most coaches would cringe at a player taking it to the basket in a 1-on-2 situation, but Calipari emphasizes beating your man and driving to the basket. All those 1-on-1 drills they went through in the opening practices paid off as Lamb nearly got the bucket and the foul.
- Coach Cal wants Teague to understand that he’s in charge of the offense. He wants him to realize that when the drive isn’t there, demand the ball and restart the offense. When Miller and Lamb were denied the lane and Calipari stopped play to get Teague the ball, he beat his man on a pick and roll and laid the ball off the glass. “We’ve got to get to that without me stopping play, yelling and having an aneurism,” Calipari said.
- Cal experimented with a 2-3 zone at the end of the scrimmage. The results were mixed. The biggest concern with the zone right now is they’re allowing too many offensive rebounds.
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