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Davis' record-setting pace highlights defensive impact

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Anthony Davis is six blocks shy of setting a school record for blocked shots in a season. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Anthony Davis is six blocks shy of setting a school record for blocked shots in a season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There are two pages in the Kentucky men's basketball factbook that are desperately out of date.

They are really no different from any of the 286 others though. They were meticulously checked and double-checked for statistical accuracy coming into the 2011-12 season, but Anthony Davis has spent his entire freshman campaign casting every name, date and number into doubt.

If you haven't guessed by now, those two pages list all-time blocked shot records in UK history. Just 17 games into his first season as a Wildcat, Davis has etched his name into UK lore with 78 blocked shots, giving him more than 286 Division I teams.

"I never thought that I would be breaking records," Davis said. "I just try to go in and play every game."

Davis may be playing innocent in saying he had no intention of harming UK's record books, but his assault has been systematic.

He needs just six blocks to set a new single-season record, previously held by Andre Riddick and Melvin Turpin at 83 swats. Considering he is averaging 4.6 per game, that should be no problem. In fact, it's not unthinkable that it could come on Saturday when the No. 2 Wildcats (16-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) head to Knoxville, Tenn., to face the Tennessee Volunteers (8-8, 1-1 SEC) at noon on ESPN.

At his current pace, Davis would shatter the record for blocks per game in both a season (2.9 by Sam Bowie in 1980-81) and a career (2.2 by Bowie).

Five times in 17 outings, Davis has had a performance that ranks among the 10 best in a game in UK history. Only Riddick appears more on the list, and he needed 126 games to have six such games. Breaking Riddick's single-game record of nine blocks is certainly within the realm of possibility, but he'll likely fall short of Jamaal Magloire's career record of 268, but only because he'll likely be the top pick in this year's NBA Draft.

In all seriousness, statistics are the furthest thing from Davis' mind at this point. Setting records is cool and all, but his achievements are merely a byproduct of his approach, an approach he's not going to alter.

"You lose focus when you get into all the statistics so I try to keep my focus on the court," Davis said.

Even so, Davis' defensive prowess begs the question: what's his secret?

Of course, his 6-foot-10 frame, even longer wingspan and ridiculous jumping ability help, but there have been plenty of players in the storied past of Kentucky basketball with physical gifts at least in the realm of Davis'. Unfortunately for youngsters aspiring to learn from Davis, he doesn't have any earth-shattering advice.

"I just try to time the shot well," Davis said. "When the ball gets out of their hand, I try to go up and block it. There's nothing more to it. It's all about timing."

Davis said his timing is largely innate, and his coach agrees.

"The best shot blockers I have seen are the ones that let people release the ball and then go get it and that's what he does," John Calipari said. "Marcus Camby, when I had him, that's exactly what he did, he never blocked it in the guy's hand, he just stayed down and waited for him to release it."

Patience and shot-blocking ability aren't the only things Davis and the former UMass big man and 15-year NBA veteran have in common. Both had significant growth spurts during high school that transformed them from undistinguished guards into extraordinary post players.

"He went from 6'3 to 6'10," Calipari said. "A lot of times the bigger guys that have always been bigger don't have that. Those guys that grew from 6'3 to 6'10 have guard instincts and guard reactions to things."

Whatever is driving Davis' production, Calipari doesn't want it stop. His teams have historically made their living on the defensive end, but the addition of a "spider-man", as Calipari likes to call Davis, has made this year's team that much more dangerous.

With Davis waiting in the middle to erase mistakes, athletic perimeter defenders like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Darius Miller can play much more aggressively. Calipari constantly drills in his players' minds to close on shooters, forcing them to drive to the teeth of UK's Davis-anchored interior defense. Accordingly, Calipari boasts his best 3-point shooting defense (29.9 percent) dating back to the 2002-03 season at Memphis.

"I think he's a game changer," South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said following a game in which Davis blocked seven Gamecock shots. "I think he changes everything for their defense and he changes everything for your offense. In my mind, he's the most important part of what they're doing defensively because he allows them to use their length and athleticism."

Even so, it's not the accolades, the records or what he does for UK's defense that most impresses Calipari. Davis is the king of dirty work for the Wildcats, leading the team in blocked shots (obviously), steals (26 on the season) and rebounding (10.3 per game), but he doesn't balk at the fact that all five of UK's other double-figure scorers have attempted more shots on the season than he has.

"The biggest thing he does for us is he just plays," Calipari said. "He's not worried about, 'I've got to get the ball all the time.' He's getting what he needs to do to help his team win and he's telling them, 'I'll do whatever the team needs me to do to win.' "

He may not lead the team in touches, but he's still scoring 12.8 points per game due to his ability as an offensive rebounder and a whole lot of alley-oops. Davis is sitting back, focusing on what he does best and improving in other areas, recognizing all the while that attitude is best for both the team and his long-term future.

"He's coming along faster than I expected, he listens," Calipari said. "He has let us present him instead of trying to show himself. Instead of trying to do everything, he just looks at me and asks how we want him to play."

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