Kentucky's players talked about John Calipari stressing defense in the practices leading up to Wednesday's exhibition game against Translyvania. Yes, the coach wants to see improvement, but it's not like this situation is unexpected. Calipari structures his practices early in a campaign to that offense gets the most emphasis at the start.
"The reason I want the offense to be ahead of the defense is I want them to feel good about playing and be excited about coming to practice. We're a long team and we should eventually be a good defensive team and a good rebounding team but right now, we're not," he said Monday on "The Leach Report" radio show.
In last week's Blue-White game, Calipari did an in-game interview with the UK radio network in which he noted that freshman point guard Marquis Teague wasn't seeing what the coach was seeing out on the court. Calipari says what he's talking about is "pace of play," or to put it more simply, when to say "go" and when to say "whoa." Calipari gives his point guards lots of freedom so this again is an example of a work in progress.
"One, he (Teague) is recognizing defenses better than any of my other point guards at this stage. He picks up the weakside defender better than any of them--at this stage," Calipari noted. "The pace of the game is what he's got to learn. They've got five people back there, so there's no reason to rush. That court is open, there's a reason to rush. Brandon (Knight), when he figured that out last year, took his game to another level and took our team to another level."
With a season under his belt, Terrence Jones already has a keener understanding of how Calipari wants him to play. And it showed in his offseason preparation.
"On any running that we do, he's first. Last year, he was last. If you bumped him, he avoided it. Now, he's creating it. He couldn't get to the right hand (last year). Now, you play him (that way), he's going to dunk it. He's changed his habits, he's changed his body, he's changing his skill set, so the result has changed," said Calipari, adding that he thinks Jones watched the NBA draft and came away with a better feel for how he needed to improve.
With the wealth of talent of this team, one thing Calipari is doing in practices is mixing up the combinations. He said he put Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the second team in Sunday's practice and the results were eye-catching.
"I've switched other guys over there and the first group killed the second group," he said, but this team, Jones and Kidd-Gilchrist led the second unit to a win over the "first team" in a scrimmage.
Danny Trevathan had one of the best games ever for a Kentucky linebacker last week, but it didn't get the recognition it deserved because the Wildcats came up short against Mississippi State.
Trevathan had 17 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
"He's as fine a linebacker as I've ever been around," co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter said after the game. "Hard-playing guy, runs relentlessly, good tackler when he gets there. He's got tremendous awareness and feel, as evidenced by the interception right before the half. He's as good as they come. Winning and losing matters to him. He's our beacon and our guys go as he goes. Couldn't be more proud of what he's done."
UK center Matt Smith remembers what it felt like to be thrust into the spotlight unexpectedly. And that's why he was so impressed with how freshman quarterback Max Smith played last week in relief of the injured Morgan Newton.
"It's tough when you step into the light like that. I remember my first time ever playing, against Miami of Ohio, when Marcus Davis went down (with an injury in 2009)," Smith said. "You really don't have time to think and you just have to go in and do what you know."
Smith knows that the QB Smith doesn't have the experience of Newton in recognizing defensive alignments but the rookie from California doesn't let any uncertainty show in the huddle.
"He's always real poised in the huddle. When he makes his calls, he's real assertiveness," Smith said. "If he was back there doubting himself, it would make it iffy for us but if he makes it (a call) wrong, he makes it with confidence."
Kentucky was victimized by big plays last week in its loss to Mississippi State but perhaps the Cats will get to return the favor tomorrow.
Ole Miss' defense ranks 95th in the nation (according to cfbstats.com) in allowing plays of 20 or more yards with 40 of them.