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Offense progressing, but Cats rely on defense to coast past Radford

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Terrence Jones led a UK defense that blocked 10 shots and held Radford to 40 points. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Terrence Jones led a UK defense that blocked 10 shots and held Radford to 40 points. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Offensively, Kentucky isn't quite sure of its identity yet, particularly in the half-court.

Will the Wildcats rely on Terrence Jones in the post? Could John Calipari turn to the pick-and-roll extensively for the first time in his coaching career? Will the dribble-drive be UK's signature mode of attack? At this point, not even Calipari (or perhaps least of all Calipari), knows exactly what UK is or will be as an offensive team, but it just hasn't mattered so far this season.

Fortunately, Calipari has a few erasers in his back pocket that are more than making up for any errors the Cats commit. Behind a staunch defense, a dynamic fast break attack and good old-fashioned athleticism, UK is off to a perfect start to the 2011-12 season.
 
The Wildcats moved to 5-0 with an 88-40 win over Radford in Rupp Arena in spite of a disjointed start. The first 9:33 of the game wasn't pretty, as UK committed four turnovers and missed many of the open looks they did get. Instead of being mired in a close game or even trailing, UK found itself ahead by a score of 14-0.

"It's OK if we have slow offensive nights if we are playing well defensively," freshman forward Anthony Davis said. "Everybody's playing hard, but sometimes it won't fall for you. We did a good job sprinting the floor and creating offense from our defense."

Things didn't always go seamlessly, but the visiting Highlanders managed just 17-of-65 shooting from the field, committing 18 turnovers in the process. Off those turnovers, UK scored 19 points to go with 18 scored on fast breaks.

The high-flying dunks and alley-oops in the open floor will be shown on the highlights tomorrow, but the Cats know where it all starts.

"I think it really comes down to our defense," Jones said. "That's what leads over to that."

Jones has been through the rigors of a college season and witnessed firsthand how important defense is to a deep March run, but even UK's newcomers understand how working hard on that end of the floor can make up for deficits in other areas.

"Defense is real important for us," freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "We have so many long, athletic players on this that we have to be aggressive on defense. We have to press because it's so easy for us to get into passing lanes, make steals and get deflections."

Defensively, UK has established an identity as a team that contests shots (11 blocks on Wednesday) and pressures passing lanes (11 steals). Offensively, UK is somewhat of a blank slate.

"We are what we are right now," Calipari said. "We're trying to figure out what we are."

Jones has seen this movie before. He was a part of last year's Kentucky team that struggled early in the season, but eventually established a style of play of its own and advanced to the Final Four. UK doesn't figure to drop eight regular season games like a season ago with all it does well, but Jones knows he still needs to be patient.

"There's no telling how we'll play 10 games from now," Jones said. "This time last year we were playing a completely different offense than what we ended up playing at the end of the year. Right now we're letting coach evaluate us and see what we can and can't do."

Even so, the Wildcats showed progress on Wednesday. Teague committed just two turnovers against five assists and UK shot, leading UK to 13-for-22 second-half shooting as Radford played primarily zone.

"We've got a ways to go," Calipari said, "but it was a good sign that our point guard was doing what he was supposed to, our zone offense was better, we attacked, we didn't throw it around the perimeter, we got it into the lane. But we've got a lot of work to do. I've got a lot of work to do with this team."

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