Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write this season: Kentucky’s defense could take them to the Final Four. Oh yes, the Cats’ defense, which we have said several times this year was the worst of the Calipari Era, has suddenly come together in the postseason. CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander has a great breakdown of Kentucky’s improved defense, which he says could take them all the way to Phoenix:
UK’s not been an elite defense team all season, but it looked elite on that end of the floor against a top-10 team in Wichita State. It was fitting that Adebayo ended that game;. His ability as a defender inside and out (how many big man are playing that kind of D in a pivotal game-ending sequence and coming with a help-block? It’s crazy impressive) is downright vital to Kentucky’s chances.
Kentucky held Northern Kentucky and Wichita State to 35.6 percent from the field. It averaged nine blocks per game and averaged 35 defensive rebounds the first weekend. Kentucky played in the defensive style that Calipari aspired to back in the preseason. Not surprising that UK stepped up the way it did. Cal gets his guys to perform in this tournament like few coaches can. The Wildcats have to keep their averages close to those clips going forward to get out of Memphis as the champ.
While we’re all focused on the Cats’ issues on offense, specifically, Malik Monk’s slump, Norlander makes some great points. Kentucky’s defense, which haunted them vs. UCLA in December, has improved ten-fold in recent weeks; similarly, whereas Kentucky had no answer for TJ Leaf at the four-spot in the first game, Derek Willis is a different player now. Watching Willis, Malik Monk, and De’Aaron Fox adopt Dominique Hawkins and Isaiah Briscoe’s attitude on defense has me feeling better about the rematch with the Bruins, and if Malik Monk warms up? Forget about it.