BOZICH | Is Kentucky fall-behind to win pattern sustainable in March?
For the third consecutive game, Kentucky won after falling behind by at least a dozen points in the first half. Is that formula sustainable in the NCAA Tournament?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I try to keep my coaching suggestions to a minimum but sometimes my Inner Wooden must be heard. My Inner Wooden rolled up his program and made this determination Saturday afternoon:
Kentucky needs to crank up its defensive pressure.
Immediately. Consistently. Persistently.
Against Florida, Kentucky trailed by a dozen points in the first 10 minutes. Against Vanderbilt on Senior Night in Rupp Arena, Kentucky trailed by 19 points in the first 10 minutes.
Saturday at Texas A&M, Kentucky trailed by 14 points in the first seven minutes. The Aggies led, 16-2.
Yes, the Wildcats could not get shots to fall. Yes, for the first time in forever, Malik Monk did not do Malik Monk things.
But A&M, a team that ranks 10th in the Southeastern Conference in offensive efficiency, started the game by scoring on the Wildcats like UCLA or North Carolina. The Aggies made seven of their first 13 shots while constructing that 16-2 advantage,
The Wildcats won all three games, including a 71-63 victory against Aggies Saturday. The victory gave Kentucky another Southeastern Conference regular-season title as well as the top seed for the SEC Tournament.
The headlines will go where they typically go. De’Aaron Fox celebrated his return to Texas by leading Kentucky with 19 points, making a pair of shots from distance, all five of his free throws and turning ball over only once.
Bam Adebayo did Bam Adebayo things. When Kentucky got him the basketball, Adebayo scored. Seven field goal attempts. Six baskets. Only one turnover. Tough to be more efficient than that, especially when you grab eight boards and block a pair of shots.
On a day when Monk missed eight of 10 shots and failed to contribute a three-pointer, Derek Willis delivered. Credit the senior with 11 points, built on three shots from distance. He also blocked three shots.
Isaiah Briscoe took care of the distribution. One a day when Briscoe scored only eight points, he had nearly half (eight) of the Wildcats’ 17 assists.
Kentucky made plenty of winning plays – and did it on the road with guys like Johnny Manziel, the former A&M quarterback, watching from a front-row seat. It was a win that kept Kentucky in the hunt for a Two-Seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But there are headlines and there is the fine print. And the fine print is that Kentucky started this game the same way the Wildcats started the last two games.
The opponent brought more energy. They opponent built a double-digit first-half lead. The opponent forced Calipari to stand up and demand a timeout.
They won all three games by surviving 8-to-10 mostly blah minutes, especially on the defensive end.
This is what the Inner Wooden in me wants must say to John Calipari:
Stop waiting until your team is behind by 12, 14 or 19 points before you extend your defense past half-court and demand that everybody guards the way Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Darius Miller guarded.
Guard like the first six minutes are as critical as the last six minutes. Kentucky can do that. After making eight of its first 15 shots, A&M missed 27 of its last 42.
Your guys have the ability and the depth. When they get out and guard, they bring more energy on offense and defense. They can defend all 94 feet of the court, at least in significant stretches.
Why wait until you’re behind by double figures before taking advantage of your superior athleticism and making the other team uncomfortable with serious defense?
Why let the other guy establish the tempo when you have the percussion, strings and horns to play the tune you prefer?
Why risk establishing a dangerous pattern like this pattern less than two weeks before the serious one-and-done tournament basketball begins?
You’re not going to play Texas A&M wannabes in the NCAA Tournament. After the opening game, you’re likely to face more complete and dangerous teams than Vanderbilt, which needs a rousing finish to make the NCAA field. Florida is Florida.
The Wildcats and Calipari have nearly a week to settle on a flight plan. With the top seed, Kentucky will play its opening game in the SEC Tournament Friday afternoon in Nashville.
They won’t be facing NCAA Tournament competition. Their opponent could be A&M or Georgia, another team that has played the Wildcats tough twice.
Coming back to win after falling behind by 12, 14 or 19 points is entertaining and energizing. But it isn’t sustainable.
Copyright 2017 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.