CRAWFORD | Cal fires up press, Kentucky uses turnovers to stop sharp-shooting Virginia Tech
John Calipari dusted off a decade-old full-court press and Kentucky used Virginia Tech turnovers to stop the hot-shooting Hokies on Saturday, 93-86.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The good thing about having coached forever is that sometimes you learn a thing or two, and you have a large archive to draw from.
University of Kentucky coach John Calipari showed signs of both on Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena. Against a Virginia Tech team that came into the game as the nation’s top-rated offense, Calipari wanted to use his team’s week of preparation to throw out a little something different.
So Kentucky threw out a little full-court zone pressure. It worked. Between the press and Kentucky’s overall aggressiveness, the Wildcats got enough Virginia Tech turnovers (19) and turned them into enough points (36) to get an edge in a 93-86 victory.
Kentucky couldn’t do much when the Hokies were able to get into their offense. But the 36-13 edge in points off turnovers and an 18-12 edge in second-chance points helped offset Virginia Tech’s hot shooting and polished half-court execution.
“That's my old press from 10 years ago,” Calipari said after the game. “When you've been doing this 40 years, you can go reach back in the basket 20 years ago and come up with something you used that still can work. . . . If they don't turn it over, they beat us. . . . It's not that hard a press, but it's one that I think could be effective for this team. Part of it is when the front line of your press is 6-9 and 6-6 and that guard is looking at that and you put interceptor in the middle and the other guy is 6-9 and you've got an interceptor deep who's seven-foot, Nick (Richards), who can come up with balls; kind of makes you think like what are we doing.”
Whatever it was, it kept Kentucky from being passive. Virginia Tech made its shots and got its points, but Kentucky shot well itself, and took its chances defensively while winning on the boards.
But the press meant a different mentality from Calipari. He’s never been one to press enough, because he wants his team fighting every basket in the half-court. Change, however, is the mark of a good coach. And the more Calipari looked at this team, the more he wanted to try something different.
“if you know my career, I cannot stand giving up baskets,” Calipari said. “I want them all contested. And when you're doing this, you have it a little different mentality, which is let's get into their legs. Let's be the aggressor. If we let Virginia Tech be the aggressor, we lose this game. We don't have a chance. And what I've learned in my career, you're playing a pressing team, you always press the pressing team. And that makes you the aggressor versus them.”
Calipari said he expects to use the press in spots this season, though not all the time.
Virginia Tech players and coaches said Kentucky’s length was more than they were able to handle.
“Well, 25 percent of the time we gave them the ball and 60 percent of their points came off of our turnovers or second chance shots,” Williams said. “I’m not trying to be sarcastic, it’s just really hard math to overcome. If 60 percent of the opponent shots come off of offensive rebounds and turnovers, and then on the flip side, in essence we shoot 60 percent. It’s just bad math, so you’re constantly fighting uphill. But I thought that was the game. It is the game, but I also think that that is why they’re eighth in the country. You can study their numbers, 27 percent of their points entering today were off of turnovers, 21 percent of their points were on offensive look backs, so they were a little better against us specific to that.”
Kentucky got 21 points from Kevin Knox and 20 from Hamidou Diallo, who made 4 of 7 from three-point range and hit a big one with 48 seconds left to seal the victory.
The Wildcats, clearly, have benefitted from their recent run of practice time. Calipari has had no weekday games the past two weeks, allowing UK to play on Saturdays, then practice the rest of the week. It has showed in Kentucky’s play. They are more fundamentally sound than they were three weeks ago. They still have a ways to go, but there is improvement, individual and collective.
“This team needed this kind of schedule,” Calipari said. “We did not need to play top-five teams early. We don't even know who's who. I don't, they don't, we're trying to learn about each other. But this schedule has been good for us.”
Kentucky made 11 three-pointers to win the game – the most they’ve made in a game this season. They got 17 points from Quade Green, who wore shaded glasses after injuring his eye against Monmouth. Calipari said he even thought about wearing sunglasses in the game, out of solidarity with his players, but worried that it would become a big story in itself and decided not to.
Kentucky shot 48.5 percent for the game; Virginia Tech 58.2 percent. The Hokies played well, just didn’t defend well enough, and didn’t take good enough care of the ball. Williams spoke of Kentucky and Calipari in the highest terms.
Virginia Tech doubled the post and gambled that Kentucky wouldn’t win the game from three-point range. It did..
“I love them. I love Coach Cal,” Williams said. “He’s an early entry Hall of Famer and that’s only happened six times in the history of the game. So, to have a coach that’s inducted into the Hall of Fame, I have the utmost respect for him. It’s the best job in all of basketball at any level and I don’t think there will ever be another head coach to do a better job at the best job than Cal. I love their team. I think they’re getting better with each passing game and similar to what Justin Robinson said, I think our game plan coming into the game based on what they had done was the right game plan specific to our roster. They shot 50 percent from the field and made more free throws than they’ve ever made thus far this year and our turnover rate is too high. So the combination of that is a seven-point loss.”
Next up for Kentucky is another Saturday matchup, this one against UCLA in New Orleans next Saturday.
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