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UK's pick-your-poison defense works as planned

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defense_6_web.jpgNEWARK, N.J. -- On March 1, the Kentucky men's basketball team beat Vanderbilt for its second straight win after the Arkansas loss, laying the groundwork for its current nine-game winning streak and the program's second straight Elite Eight appearance.

Little did anyone know then that the Vanderbilt victory may have been the blueprint to beating Ohio State on Friday in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Against Vanderbilt, John Calipari elected to leave senior forward Josh Harrellson one-on-one with Festus Ezeli to focus on the Commodores' 3-point shooters. Ezeli had one of the best games of his career that night, but Vanderbilt mustered just two 3-point field goals and Kentucky won the game.

The Wildcats used a similar pick-your-poison defense against No. 1 seed Ohio State in the Sweet 16, choosing to take their chances with Jared Sullinger inside and limit the Buckeyes' perimeter sharpshooters.

It worked perfectly as Ohio State went just 6 of 16 from behind the arc and UK won 62-60 to advance to the Elite Eight.

"Recently we've definitely been taking pride in our defense, trying to lock up the other team, make them uncomfortable and take away at least one of their strong points," junior guard/forward Darius Miller said. "We did a great job of playing defense today."

Calipari chose to leave Harrellson on Sullinger, the national Freshman of the Year, to free up more players against the nation's top 3-point shooting team. Sullinger got his points, scoring a team-high 21, but Kentucky got into the faces of perimeter shooters David Lighty (1 of 4 from behind the arc), William Buford (1 for 3) and Aaron Craft (0 of 2).

Only Jon Diebler, the Big Ten's all-time leading 3-pointer shooter, had a decent day (4 of 7), as Ohio State shot just 32.8 percent from the field, the third-worst shooting performance for the Buckeyes this season.

"The game plan was to dig, scramble and contest every 3-ball," freshman guard Doron Lamb said.

But make no mistake about it, UK's defense wouldn't have been possible without another heroic defensive effort from Harrellson, who played Sullinger to a virtual standstill and even frustrated him with three blocks.

"He's one of the strongest players out there in my opinion," Miller said of Harrellson. "For him to put a body on him like that and play him straight up without needing a lot of help ... that was big for us. We didn't have to help much off the shooters."

Kentucky's defensive stopper, DeAndre Liggins, also deserves much of the credit. After switching on several different Buckeyes in the first half, Liggins drew the assignment on guard Aaron Craft for most of the second half and shut down the wily freshman.

Craft didn't make a field goal and was limited to two assists on the night.

"I felt that if we could make the game hard for Craft, it was going to be in our benefit," Calipari said. "There are certain players on teams that you got to go at them to change the direction of the game, and that's why we did it. The start of the half, I took him off Craft and you saw Craft go nutty. I called timeout and I put him back on Craft. ... He was huge today - huge."

Kentucky has ranked in the top 10 in field-goal percentage defense nearly all season long, but it's been the Cats' ability to clamp down on opponents during this nine-game winning streak that has made UK suddenly so dangerous. No team has scored more than 68 points in the nine victories and only three times has the opposition shot 44 percent or better.

Against Ohio State, Kentucky blocked 11 shots, the second most by a Kentucky team in NCAA Tournament history.

"You have to give them credit on defense," Diebler said. "They played hard and they just challenged shots. With their size and length, we knew that they were shot blockers and they got some shots blocked."

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