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3-point shooting could torch Cats' dreams if they don't correct defense

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MBSK 09_10 UK_Sam Houston Web 42.jpgThere was plenty to love in Kentucky's high scoring 102-92 victory over Sam Houston State to open the Cancun Challenge:

- The Cats scored 100-plus points
- DeMarcus Cousins continued to build off his second-half performance against Miami (Ohio), scoring a career-high 27 points and 18 rebounds for his second career double-double
- Five Cats scored in double-figures, the lowest of the five coming  from Darius Miller with 15 points
- UK shot 60 percent from the floor, including 50 percent from behind the arc

But there were also plenty of things to squirm about. UK failed to get a single point from its bench, made just 19-of-29 from the charity stripe and turned it over 23 times (six each from freshman guards Eric Bledsoe and John Wall).

Take your pick at the most glaring issue. I'll take the 3-point defense.

For the second straight game, the Cats were torched from the perimeter. Sam Houston State dropped a Rupp Arena record 18 3-point shots Thursday night largely on the back of Corey Allmond.

The senior guard nailed a Rupp Arena record 11 treys, breaking Tony Delk's previous record of nine. Allmond made 99 triples last season, 14th most in the nation, but it was clear from head coach John Calipari's reaction after the game that it's more a Kentucky issue than just a kid catching fire.

"I was so mad a couple of times that my head almost popped off," Calipari said.

Calipari started the news conference shaking his head. By the end of it, his forehead landed squarely on the microphone.

"I've just called the rules committee to see if they'd move the line back," Calipari joked after the game.

But this is hardly a joking matter anymore. UK is bad at guarding the 3-pointer. Like, historically bad.

"This may be at this point the worst defensive team I've had since 1988," Calipari said. "At the end of the day, if we're going to be what everybody thinks we're going to be, we have to be one of the best defensive teams in the country."

Uh, they've got a long way to go. And I mean a long, long way to go.

Over the last two games, UK has surrendered 33 treys on 64 shots. Two players alone - Miami of Ohio's Nick Winbush and Allmond - have combined for 19 3-pointers (57 points), single handedly keeping UK's opponents in the game.

They're gut-wrenching numbers when one considers that the Cats face Rider on Saturday, a team Calipari calls a better perimeter shooting team than the one that poured gasoline on UK on Thursday and lit it on fire. Rider lost to Virginia earlier in the evening, but Calipari doesn't expect that to be a problem Saturday.

"Do you think they're going to shoot it here well Saturday?" Calipari said. "Is there any indication that we're going to guard 3-point shooters?"

None so far, coach.

MBSK 09_10 UK_Sam Houston Web 11.jpgThe root of the problem, according to Calipari, seems to be communication. The Bearkats would "leak" out a player in transition every time the Cats would shoot it, forcing a UK defender to get back on a man that typically wasn't his.

That is when the trouble would start.

"We don't talk," Calipari said. "Instead of saying, 'I got yours, you take mine,' no one speaks. So now no one knows who's who, we step up and take the guy dribbling and leave the best 3-point shooter maybe in America tonight with no one on him. ... You have to communicate and talk on defense."

The only player who talked by Calipari's account was senior Ramon Harris. Otherwise, UK made Allmond look like Steve Kerr.

Part of it's from a lack of effort. Some of it's bad technique. But maybe the most glaring indicator of the Cats' struggles to defend the long ball is just plain immaturity.

One of the biggest adjustments from the high school level to the collegiate level is defense. Before the season started, Calipari expected this team to struggle adjusting to the Dribble Drive Motion Offense, not the defense. Now it's become clear that he's going to have to start teaching Defense 101 with some of the younger guys.

"You've got to stay and play the entire possession," Calipari said. "Young players do not because they never had to in high school."

Calipari said championship teams usually hold their opponents to around 29, 30 percent shooting from the 3-point line. By comparison, UK's last two opponents have scorched the Rupp Arena floor at a 51.5 percent clip.

It's left Calipari confused, bewildered and frustrated before the meat of the schedule has even begun to approach. But it's a problem Calipari isn't going to shy away from.

"It's who we are right now, and I'm not embarrassed about it" Calipari said. "I love my team, we've got a chance of being good, but we also have a chance of being bad if we don't start changing. If they don't take pride in their defense and have a sense of urgency and say we're going to come together and start talking, everyone of us ... if we don't get better defensively, folks, do you think we can score 100 against everybody because we're going to have to. They're going to score 100 on us."

The bottom line is UK was the one to score 100-plus points Thursday and notch the third win of its season. The offense moved with pace, Cousins went off and UK remained undefeated.

But if the Cats don't correct their 3-point defense soon, none of that will matter. The nightmarish perimeter defense is becoming an ever-growing elephant in the room. If the problem isn't corrected soon, it's going to grow too big and crush the season's ultimate dreams.

"You can't defend this way and win," Calipari said. "Any championship team in any sport at any level that's going to try to win championships does it with their defense. It's just how it is."

UK isn't close to that team right now. That's just how it is.

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1 Comment

I think Coach Calipari is wanting everything immediatly just like us fans are! But everybody, including Coach Calipari, needs to understand that this is all new to the players! Not to mention that 60% of the players are freshmen! Now if we're still talking about this in the middle of February, then we have a definite problem! IT'S EARLY PEOPLE!

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  • Kevin Medlock: I think Coach Calipari is wanting everything immediatly just like us fans are! But everybody, including Coach Calipari, needs to read more
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