If a team wants to grind with Kentucky, coach¿John Calipari said the Wildcats can grind right back.
Kentucky did that late in its 75-65 win over Kansas on Tuesday, which allowed the Cats to keep the Jayhawks at bay in a big early-season win.
“We made it a half-court game late. When we had that nine to 10-point lead, then we said, ‘OK, we’re going to grind it out. If a team changes how we’re playing the game, then we’ve got a big advantage,”¿Calipari said Thursday.
Whether No. 2 Kentucky (2-0) has to do that Saturday when it play Penn State at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Connecticut remains to be seen. But he likes that his team showed it could.
“In the last game, we made it a half-court game when we were up nine or 10 and stretched it to 17 making it a half-court game,”¿he said.
Calipari said the Wildcats took a lot of good things from Tuesday’s game, not the least of which is the young players showed they were not going to get pushed around by a big, physical, veteran team like Kansas.
“I liked our will to win. We played a team that came in with one thing in mind, ‘Bully these young kids,’”¿Calipari said. “And the first part of the game all we shot were jump shots because if you drove in, you were going to get slapped.
“I think most teams are going to that to us. “(The game plan) is be physical. Be physical, and that will be their game plan until we prove that has no effect on us.”
Penn State (3-0) is coming off a 77-68 win over Long Island on Wednesday and is averaging 69.7 points per game and giving up 56.3.
“They run some stuff similar to what we’re doing with their guard play. They keep people in front of you, and they all shoot fairly well,”¿Calipari said. “They’ll throw a zone at you and throw some press at you.”
Tim Frazier, a 6-1 junior guard, is averaging 20.7 points and five rebounds for the¿Nittany Lions with 26 assists and 11 turnovers.
Cameron Woodyard, a 6-5 senior guard, is averaging 11 points and 6.7 boards per game, and 6-1 freshman guard Trey Lewis is scoring 9.7 points per game.
Calipari said Kentucky can’t afford another slow start against another experienced team.
“I had no idea how we would play (against Kansas). But I was right, which is I thought we would get the nerves and anxiousness and go out and take bad shots,”¿he said.
“We were missing free throws. (The Wildcats made just 16 of 29). Then mentally, we kind of settled down the last five minutes of the first half and the first seven to eight minutes of the second half, and that’s when we created our gap. So we’ve got to learn to start the game and understand that every opponent is worthy, because they’ll be playing out of their minds.”
Calipari thought the team settled down and played less nervous when the offense went through Darius Miller, who finished with four assists, five points and four rebounds,
“I think what Darius did in the second half, they went zone and we put him in the slot and I yelled at him to get in the slot and ‘let if fly kid,’”¿Calipari said. “That’s the kind of stuff he does for us.”
Anthony Davis had seven of the Wildcats’ 13 blocked shots against Kansas and has 12 of their 26 blocks on the season.
“It starts with him being a 6-11 kid that can really jump and has really long arms. Great shot-blockers were blocking the shot when (shooters) released it,”¿Calipari said. “Marcus (Camby) and I texted each other after the game, I asked him if he saw what Davis did and asked him who he reminded him of. He said, ‘a young Marcus Camby,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, but he shoots it better.’
“He goes after the ball when the guy releases it. He’s a good weak-side defender that can block shots. Three of those blocks were not on his man.”
While Kentucky’s defense continues to earn Calipari’s praise, Davis’ foul shooting — he was 2 for 6 at the line — did not.
“Anthony missed all those free throws, and he’s a good shooter,” he said. “I told him if he misses free throws he can’t be in the game late, because he’s got to be able to make free throws late.”