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August 16, 2010

UK uses pressure defense in exhibition victory

Matt605

WINDSOR, Ontario - Kentucky may not possess the depth it has in the past but a versatile, athletic roster may dictate at least a partial return to its pressing ways.

The Cats unleashed a full-court pressure defense that had its flaws but also harassed Western (Ontario) University into 28 turnovers and led to a 96-68 victory at the St. Denis Centre. Despite playing with only eight players after Terrence Jones was diagnosed with a stress fracture in a rib, the Cats made a pointed effort to work on their press and seemed no worse for the wear.

"I thought in the first half we got out scrapped so I was going nuts," UK coach John Calipari said. "You can't play (at Kentucky) and be that way so I told them at halftime, 'If that guy is getting the best of you should he be on this team and you be on that team? Are we being real? He's beating you.' The second half I thought they came out and competed. They're learning how hard we're going to play.

"I work on being able to be an attacking team offensively and what happens by teaching that is they have to learn to guard the ball. When your entire team can guard the ball then you become a pretty good defensive team. That's what we do defensively."

The Cats weren't particularly sharp at the outset, repeatedly getting beat defensively and finding themselves leading just 42-37 with 1:43 remaining in the first half. Two steals and a blocked shot led to a charge over the final minute of the half and continued into the second stanza as the lead ballooned to 72-49 less than eight minutes later. By the end of the assault, UK had frustrated the Mustangs throughout a physical affair.

"They were coming at us the entire game," Western guard Ryan Barbeau said. "We don't see that (often). They just kept coming and coming."

"When their defensive intensity rose our execution fell apart," Western coach Brad Campbell said. "That's a great lesson for our players."

Freshman guard Brandon Knight (17 points, 12 assists) once again shined, this time as more of a distributor, while Darius Miller (20 points), and Doron Lamb (24 points) also made their mark. Lamb's performance came one night after Calipari challenged him to bring more intensity to the court.

"Doron Lamb was way better," Calipari said. "I told Brandon to grab him and tell him that if he ran the floor he'd find him so Brandon walks over and tells him, 'Look, if you run the floor hard I'll find you' and the next three times he runs the floor hard, (Knight) finds him and he gets some lay-ups and shots. That was some good stuff."

Still, the prevailing storyline was the Cats' willingness to play, and tenacity in doing so, on the defensive end. And yet, Calipari spent very little of the allowable 10 days of practice time leading up the trip focused on that area of the game.

"We tried to mess around with (the press), but when one guy breaks down it's a basket," Calipari said. "On the plays they scored one guy didn't get to his spot, one guy stopped playing, one guy wasn't reacting and didn't anticipate.

"I work on being able to be an attacking team offensively and what happens by teaching that is they have to learn to guard the ball. When your entire team can guard the ball then you become a pretty good defensive team. That's what we do defensively."

With three of the Cats' four projected big men unavailable they simply latched onto a style that best suited the personnel.

"We only have eight players but we try to run it up your throat any chance we get," forward Josh Harrellson said. "We are going to keep running it right up your back."

Sounds familiar, eh?


Matt May is the basketball beat reporter for The Cats' Pause. If you have questions or comments about the Cats e-mail him here. You can also follow "@TCPMAY" on Twitter for live updates.





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