Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Patient Wisconsin to test Cats in Final Four

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
UK and Wisconsin will face off on Saturday at AT&T Stadium with a spot in the national championship game on the line. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK and Wisconsin will face off on Saturday at AT&T Stadium with a spot in the national championship game on the line. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- All season long John Calipari has poked and prodded, trying to find a way to get his young Kentucky team to sustain energy for complete possessions.

On the eve of the Final Four, one of his youngsters shed some light on just how difficult it is to do that as a freshman.

"Going through high school you don't really go through plays," Marcus Lee said. "You're kind of just running up and down, especially in AAU. So being able to come into a college team and be able to slow everything down, be able to slow your brain down mentally and just get through the whole 30 seconds and going through the same play over and over is real hard."

At no point this season has Kentucky been closer to overcoming that challenge.

The Wildcats, playing in three straight nail-biters against teams that made last year's Final Four, have had to muster every ounce of focus just to reach this point. Each game decided by five points or less, UK has played possession after possession with its postseason life hanging in the balance.

Fittingly, the next opponent the Cats (28-10) will face presents their toughest test yet on that front.

Only 10 teams in the country hold the ball longer on offense than second-seeded Wisconsin (30-7). The Badgers are a study in patience, their average offensive possessions lasting 20.5 seconds.  

Whereas some teams shoot late in the clock because of an inability to get good looks early, the Badgers wait because past performance suggests something good will happen if they do.

"They don't get bored with going through an offensive play for the full 30 seconds," Lee said. "They're disciplined enough to go through the whole thing the whole time, stay mentally ready and then be able to go play."

If the Cats don't match that focus, the Badgers will make them pay.

"They'll get you down in the shot clock and you think you can relax but that's where they make a backdoor or set a rip screen or something like that," Julius Randle said. "So they're all very skilled players who can shoot the ball and get into the lane."

Randle clearly understands that Wisconsin's success has to do with a lot more than just Bo Ryan's system, a fact that Coach Cal has been sure to impart to his team in preparation.

"So I will tell you that they're more athletic than you think," Calipari said. "They're more skilled than you think. They're not relying solely on an offense. They're not. They run great isos for all their guys so that they put them in a position where it's one on one. Bo hadn't done a whole lot of that in the past, but what I'm seeing, now they are."

Ryan has a number of options at his disposal, with six Badgers attempting at least 19 percent of their team's shots when on the floor and scoring at least 7.8 points per game.

"I think Bo is one of those guys that throughout this game, he will figure out -- and I've seen it in all the games I've watched -- where is there a mismatch, where is there something?" Calipari said. "You do something, Bo does something else. It's like Bo knows. So we got to be on top of what we're doing because he will put people in positions to hurt you."

Ryan, coaching in his first Final Four in 13 seasons at Wisconsin, says the Badgers wouldn't win a collective footrace if you matched them up against his former teams, but he also knows, like Calipari, that saying the Cats are the only team with athleticism is grossly inaccurate.

"When you say 'athletic,' this group we have is athletic in this sense: They have good perception and spatial skills for being a good offensive team," Ryan said. "Defensively they understand they're only as strong as all five guys playing together. Our best defense is five versus five, not in transition."

Because Wisconsin's best defense is in the half-court, the Badgers typically forgo crashing the offensive glass in favor of setting up on the other end of the floor.

"They don't allow too many easy buckets," Randle said. "They're just a great defensive team and you can obviously tell they communicate well on that end of the floor. They're just very solid, don't make too many mistakes."

You can chalk a lot of that up to experience.

The Badgers start four juniors and seniors, and UK, of course, five freshmen. The Cats, however, have little interest in that narrative.

"Every team in the country has more experience than us, I guess, but how could it matter if we're all in the Final Four?" Aaron Harrison said. "We're all just playing to win a championship."

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.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://cstv.collegesports.com/mt5.2/mt-tb.cgi/53989

Leave a comment




Recent Comments