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Notes: Cats operating at peak offensive efficiency

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Aaron Harrison is averaging 16 points and shooting 13 of 24 from 3-point range in the NCAA Tournament. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison is averaging 16 points and shooting 13 of 24 from 3-point range in the NCAA Tournament. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For most of the season, UK survived on offense with brute force.

The Wildcats overwhelmed opponents with size and athleticism, going to the offensive glass and the free-throw line at remarkable rates.

Two weeks into a magical NCAA Tournament run, the Cats are adding a little finesse to their game.

Over their last three games -- wins over formerly unbeaten Wichita State and 2013 national title game participants Louisville and Michigan -- the Cats have operated at an unprecedented level of offensive efficiency.

That tweak? Yeah, it's working.

"When I did the first tweak, I told everybody, 'You will see a change,' and they saw it; couldn't believe it," John Calipari said. "Then before we went to the tournament, I tweaked another thing and I said, 'You will see a change,' and they've all seen it."

The Cats have scored an astounding 1.24 points per possession over their last three games. In NCAA Tournament play overall, UK is scoring 1.16 points per possession facing defenses ranked 20th, 11th, fifth and 109th by kenpom.com in succession.

Among Final Four teams, only Wisconsin has been more efficient offensively. And if you take out the Badgers' second-round bludgeoning of overmatched American, the Cats are a few thousandths of a point better.

UK has been characteristically good on the glass during the run, rebounding 47.1 percent of its misses over the last three games. The Cats aren't getting to the line as often as they did in the regular season, but they have hit 73.3 percent of their free throws and are shooting lights out from the field. Kentucky sports an effective field-goal percentage of .561, boosting their season percentage to .500.

In the process, they've climbed to ninth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to kenpom.com, second among Final Four teams to national semifinal opponent Wisconsin.

Don't let final scores and a slow pace fool you: The Badgers are among the best offensive teams in the country, ranking fourth according to kenpom.com with solid shooting and the second-lowest turnover rate in the country. That should be of some concern to the Cats, who haven't exactly locked down opponents in the tournament.

Over the last three games, Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan -- all top-16 offenses -- have combined to score 1.19 points per possession against UK, the latter two capitalizing on the absence of shot-blocking extraordinaire Willie Cauley-Stein.

Hood enjoys quality time with regional trophy

During the 30 minutes UK's locker room was open to the media following a win over Michigan, Jon Hood held the Midwest Regional championship trophy on his lap.

He didn't let go of it until the next day.

"He just left my office," John Calipari said. "He had the regional trophy in his room. He said, 'Where you want me to put it?' I said, 'You keep it.' He said, 'Nah, I've had it all night. It was in the bed with me.' "

Hood, catching wind of his coach's comments on Monday's Final Four teleconference, was quick to offer clarification on Twitter.


Important as the distinction may be to Hood, it doesn't change what his joy following his third Final Four trip in four years says about the senior's development.

"He's come so far," Calipari said. "He came from a deer-in-headlights, scared to death, to an angry, 'What is this?' to a great teammate to a loving part of our family."

Loving, yes, but just as important. He hasn't yet played a minute in the NCAA Tournament, but he serves as a mentor to his younger teammates and even an adviser to his coach.

On his Senior Night, Hood notably told Calipari the lob pass was open against Alabama's zone defense. Coach Cal then called for the play, resulting in a James Young dunk.

And against Michigan in the Elite Eight, Hood -- who bristles when his teammates describe him as a coach -- spoke up again. Nik Stauskas was about to step to the line for two free throws with UK leading by three with 2:26 to play. Seeing 44.9-percent foul shooter Dakari Johnson on the low block, Hood stepped up to the raised floor at Lucas Oil Stadium to talk to his coach.

"Last night in the game, they are shooting free throws and he says to me, 'What are you going to do if Dakari rebounds it? Because they're going to foul him,' " Calipari said. "He came up to me. Not an assistant."

Hood might not be an assistant, but Coach Cal listened to him just the same, shouting instructions to the Harrison twins to call an immediate timeout should Johnson rebound a Stauskas miss.

The episode is another example of Calipari's players-first philosophy.

"See, this is not my team; it's their team," Calipari said. "And I want them to feel empowered, and he knows that."

Calipari, Cats to make time to watch McDonald's game

Coach Cal has a fair bit going on this week. Between practices, traveling to Texas and the media circus that comes with taking a team to the Final Four, he'll scarcely have a chance to breathe.

He will, however, find time to get to a television and tune to ESPN on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET for the McDonald's All-American game, or at least soon after.

"Oh, we'll watch it," Calipari said. "And if I can't watch it, it'll be taped. It'll be taped, because we have four players in it."

The four players -- most of any school along with Duke -- are Karl Towns on the East team and Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Tyler Ulis on the West. They make up UK's latest highly regarded class and all have bright basketball futures, but Coach Cal is just excited about their character.

"They're terrific basketball players, but spend some time with them," Calipari said. "You're talking about four great, great kids."

UK's tourney success unmatched under Calipari

Coach Cal has gotten plenty of attention for his recruiting record in his tenures at Kentucky, Memphis and UMass, and rightfully so.

But when everyone looks back on his legacy years from now, it could very well be his NCAA Tournament record that we all remember.

  • Calipari's career record in the tournament is 42-13, tops among active coaches.
  • He will make his fifth Final Four appearance this weekend, tying him for ninth most all-time.
  • The Final Four is the third in four seasons, making Kentucky the first school to accomplish that feat since UCLA reached three straight from 2006-08.
  • UK has won 10 straight NCAA Tournament games under Coach Cal. No team has won that many in a row since Florida won 12 straight and back-to-back titles in 2006-07. Overall, UK is 17-2 in the NCAA Tournament under Calipari.
  • The last three victories in the streak are quite impressive. UK is the first team in history to eliminate three teams from the previous year's Final Four and the third since 1979 to eliminate an unbeaten opponent (Wichita State).

Here are a few more notes from around the Twitter-sphere on a March Madness run the Big Blue Nation won't soon forget.


To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

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