LEXINGTON — Kentucky’s easy victory over Radford on Wednesday could be similar to Saturday’s game in which the Wildcats entertain Portland, another team that figures to be overmatched against the No. 2 Wildcats.
So what can Kentucky coach John Calipari learn about his team in games like this? Here’s a look at some insights he did, or did not, gain in the Wildcats’ 88-40 win over Radford:
— Kentucky may use a 2-3 zone defense often this season.
“I think it's something that we need to think about doing some. And we've got to get better than we are right now,” Calipari said. “We got out of whack a little bit a couple times, but we're — I'll look at the tape again, and we're going to try to figure out how we've got to play.
“Because we're long, you think you've got a shot, and someone has got a hand on you, but then we got a rebound. Kyle (Wiltjer) got that ball jerked from him, and Eloy (Vargas) went in there and rebounded, so maybe Eloy is the middle of that zone if we go zone.”
Calipari envisions Kentucky keeping opponents from getting “into their rhythm” against a zone because of the Wildcats’ length.
“I don't see us giving up wide¿open shots because we're so big. I just don't see it because we're so long and big. I would probably do it with a big lineup so that every shot is a contested shot and it's not bad,” Calipari said of the zone. “I've never had a big zone like that. You think about it, we're 6-foot-10 across the line and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has a 7-foot-2 wingspan at one guy, and maybe it's Doron (Lamb) or Marquis (Teague) at the other guard. I mean, that's a big zone, very big.”
Radford was just 17 for 65 from the field and 2 for 25 from 3-point range against Kentucky’s man-to-man and zone. Radford coach Mike Jones said his team missed open shots, but also said UK’s zone could pose major problems for future teams.
“They remind me of the Syracuse team that won the national championship (in 2003). We played them when I was at the University of Richmond, and they would sit in the zone and we had to figure out how to get the ball into the middle, and it’s hard to because of their length,” Jones said. “When you think you have a shot, they’d close out quickly and be able to put pressure on it. I definitely think if they did play some, it would be tough to score against them in that.”
That’s what the Cats think, too.
“With Terrence (Jones) and Anthony (Davis) on the wings blocking shots, it really helps us. With me, Marquis (Teague), and Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) at the top of the key, the other team can't really get a shot up,” Lamb said.
— Free-throw shooting can be misleading in a rout.
Kentucky was 21 for 24 at the free-throw line, its best performance of the season, as freshmen Kidd-Gilchrist (8 for 8), Anthony Davis (4 for 4) and Wiltjer (2 for 2) combined to go 14 for 14.
“Well, when you're up 30, you can make free throws,” Calipari said. “I need to know when it's a two-point game with two seconds to go and you're on national television who's making those, but up 30 you can make them. It's deceiving.
“I'm happy we did it, because when teams look at our stats they start saying, ‘You can't foul them.’ Good, don't foul us, because that's how they've been playing us to this point.
— After a physical, low-scoring win over Old Dominion on Sunday, Calipari thought his team needed a confidence boost, especially offensively, such as it got in this game in which five players scored in double figures.
“After Old Dominion, you had a lot of players in there wondering if they were any good, and wondering if our team was any good. We play Penn State, we're world-beaters, we're beating anybody, where's the Lakers? Then you go to ODU and you're like, ‘Oh my gosh, we're not very good and I'm not very good and what is wrong with me?’ You want them to play well,” Calipari said.
“For me, I've always been this way as a coach: I want people to look at individual players on my team and say, ‘That guy is good and that guy really plays and this guy plays and that guy plays,’ and yes, I want them to say my team plays hard, they play great defense and they play together. Short of that, I want it to be about individual players playing well. If I can get them to play well and I can get them to play together where they're a team, good things will happen.”
— Kentucky had another slow start offensively, something Calipari says his team has to learn to get over when teams try to slow the pace.
“There's two things you can do when a team tries to hold the ball, which is what they were going to do until the shot clock winds down, hopefully make shots: You've got to really bother them,” he said. “You can't let them just do it because they're not trying to score. So try to steal balls, try to get up in people, try to be active with your hands, block balls and run.
“After a while, you're wearing them out more than they're wearing you out. But we didn't. We came down and we walked, we missed a shot, we got a ball tipped from us. It was 4-0 versus being 12-0, and then we got going a little bit offensively and made some plays. But like I said, we are what we are right now. We're still trying to learn, we're trying to figure things out.”