BOZICH | Kentucky makes its case for Number One by blasting Duke - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Kentucky makes its case for Number One by blasting Duke

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John Calipari got the best of Duke and Mike Krzyzewski Tuesday night in Chicago. John Calipari got the best of Duke and Mike Krzyzewski Tuesday night in Chicago.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A year ago Kentucky used the Champions Classic as the opening clue that John Calipari had a team capable of roaring to 38 consecutive victories.

The Wildcats beat Kansas by 32 – and could have won by 50.

Kentucky didn’t beat Duke by 32 Tuesday night at the United Center in Chicago. The Wildcats beat the Blue Devils, ranked fifth, by 11 (74-63). They made a made a nationally televised case they deserve consideration with North Carolina as the nation’s top-ranked team.

It worked. The Wildcats moved into the top spot in Ken Pomeroy's computer rankings, ahead of Duke, Villanova and Virginia.

(UK, for the record, was only favored by 1 ½ points. Duke was beaten by more than 11 only twice last season while winning the NCAA title.)

On a night when John Calipari was less than pleased by the way that his young team rebounded the basketball in the first half, Kentucky (3-0) won with defense, speed and relentless attacking. Duke did not generate a fast-break basket for the first 35 minutes.

The Wildcats were quicker, more elusive and more balanced than the Blue Devils. They protected the ball, turning it over only nine times. Duke scored five points off turnovers. The Wildcats scored 17. The Wildcats averaged an impressive 1.07 points per possession and led for all but five seconds.

Duke’s man-to-man defense failed to make the Wildcats uncomfortable. Mike Krzyzewski tried to align his team in a zone – and quickly abandoned that idea because Kentucky’s ball-handlers drove directly to the rim.

All those items translated into impressive balance. Four Kentucky players scored at least 10 points – Marcus Lee (10), Tyler Ulis (18), Isaiah Briscoe (12) and Jamal Murray (16).

Some people wonder if Ulis, at 5 feet 9, is big enough to play point guard against the nation’s best backcourts. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas is not one of those people. “If you’re good enough, you’re big enough,” Bilas said.

Ulis was good enough against a taller but slower Duke group of guards. He led Kentucky in points, minutes (all 40) and did not turn the ball over a single time. No fatigue and no silliness, a lethal combination. And I'm not forgetting the six assists.

Despite Calipari’s halftime grousing about the way his guys handled their rebounding responsibilities the final box score suggests that Kentucky did solid work there, too. Both teams had 38 rebounds, but the Wildcats outscored Duke in the paint, 48-30.

Kentucky also guarded – on the perimeter, in the middle of the passing lanes and at the rim. This is a versatile team, capable of pressuring the basketball because of its ability to switch screens. Duke made less than 41 percent of its shots, averaging just .913 points per possession,

They made Grayson Allen, Duke’s leading scorer, wish that he had departed for the NBA like three other freshmen on the Blue Devils’ national championship team last season.

Allen came to Chicago averaging 27 points per game. He scored six, none in the first half when Allen missed his first nine shots. He did not score until nearly eight minutes had been played in the second half when Allen made a three-point shot near the Blue Devils’ bench.

Allen’s offensive game quickly disappeared again. Ulis pressured him into double-clutching and then passing up a mid-range jumper. Frustrated, Allen pushed Ulis and earned an offensive foul seconds later.

Kentucky has three guards who can attack and score. That will be a formidable challenge for any team to defend. Duke did not have the personnel to defend or deny the Kentucky guards, who can all handle the basketball the way that a point guard must handle it.

Marcus Lee does not have the standard offensive low-post game, the kind Kentucky has enjoyed the last two seasons with Julius Randle (2014) and Karl-Anthony Towns (2015). But Lee finds ways to score without a signature power move.

Lee succeeds because he is quicker than most defenders. He can also jump twice faster than anybody on the court. He contributed 10 rebounds and a pair of blocks.

Duke’s first four baskets (nine total points) were scored by Marshall Plumlee. He plays center for the Blue Devils. He’s not simply a senior. He’s a fifth-year senior. Plumlee arrived at Duke the same season that Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist arrived at UK.

But Plumlee scored only three points the rest of the game – and Duke did not have enough other answers.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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