HOOVER, Ala. — There’s nothing more entertaining than a high-scoring basketball game, especially for University of Kentucky fans who love fast break basketball.
However, UK¿coach John Calipari is a believer in defense and was not thrilled with the high-scoring Blue-White Game Wednesday that produced a 126-104 win for the more experienced Blue squad led by Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb.
“We could win games scoring that many points, but I couldn’t stand it. I am a defensive coach. I pride myself on having our guys play great defense,” Calipari said Thursday at the Southeastern Conference media day.
“If we're to be what everybody thinks we are, we're going to have to be special defensively. That means you can't just give up lanes to the rim. That means you stop splits, you contest shots and then you rebound like crazy. One team (in the Blue-White Scrimmage) had 24 offensive rebounds. The other had 14 offensive rebounds. That can't be who we are."
Calipari has not had a team allow opponents to shoot over 40 percent for a season since the 2003-04 season at Memphis. His teams annually rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage defense. When the Cats seemed to come out of nowhere last year to reach the Final Four, it was mainly due to a defense that did not allow over 70 points in the last 11 games and held six opponents to 60 points or less.
Calipari said his team has “focused a lot on offense and it shows” in the defense. However, he’s convinced UK can be a “good pressing team” this season.
“There is a lot of stuff left to do. I get a headache thinking about what we have to do,” he said. “We have to teach fundamentals, the basics because those kids are so young which puts us behind in pick and roll defense, post defense, press offense, press defense. We are behind.”
Yet that won’t change his approach to defense even with a team loaded with projected NBA draft picks.
“You have to demand if you don’t defend, you are not playing.¿Our guys know it. Last year we were a terrific defensive team and we played three freshmen. The year before we were, and we played four freshmen. It can be done, but they are not going to be good early in the year,” Calipari said.
“It’s very simple. If you can’t guard, you are not playing. You better figure that out pretty quickly. If you are breaking down defensively, you are immediately coming out of the game.¿I don’t budge on that.”
Powerful pair: Calipari has not let Jones and freshman Anthony Davis play together often in practice. Instead, he’s had his talented freshman and his classmates — Doron Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague — practicing against UK’s older players
Calipari said he’s not seen a “better player in the country” than Jones.
“He has a viciousness to him now and he’s not settling like he did a year ago. And he’s rebounding the ball like he did in the Final Four.¿Now I¿have to put he and Anthony on the court together. I¿have not done that yet. They have not played together,” Calipari said. “We have to put them out there and see.
“I have been trying to keep them playing against each other right now. The reason Darius Miller has improved so much is that he is going every day against Michael Gilchrist. If you don’t show up for practice, you will get dunked on. So will Michael.¿Michael has not gone against a guy like Darius every day.
“Terrence is going against Anthony Davis every day so if he does not get into his body to shoot a ball, the kid blocks it. If you don’t go above the rim to rebound, you are not getting the ball. Then you have Doron Lamb going against Marquis Teague every day, so you are talking two physical players. Then you have Kyle Wiltjer going against Eloy. Now we have to start changing around and get ready for that top six, seven being on one side and the other guys on the other side. We have not got there yet.”
Buyout: Calipari spent some time Thursday again sharing his views on conference realignment and that gave him an opportunity to stress how powerful the SEC compared to other conferences.
“Do you know what the buyout is in the SEC (for a school that wants to leave the conference)? It’s zero.¿If you want to leave, beat it. You will be replaced in 45 seconds. It’s zero. That’s the buyout,” Calipari said. “Our league right now in basketball, we have three teams in the top 10. You have two others in the top 20, 25. But the other guys (in the league) have also moved it up.
“I don’t know if the whole league has been as strong as this. But the bottom has moved. Teams that were rebuilding have moved up also. It is a hard league because there are so many terrific athletes and coaches in all these sports that it makes it hard.”
Quotable: How do you think this year’s Terrence Jones would do against last year’s Terrence Jones?
“A lot better. I think I would kill myself,” Jones said. “Really, I feel you can’t force me one way this year compared to what teams were doing last year.”