It’s no secret that Kentucky’s improvement on defense is the key to their turnaround this season. The Cats have held three of their last four opponents to 55 points or less, a stat that has to please John Calipari. On this morning’s SEC Teleconference, Cal admitted his team’s defense has been “good,” mostly because guys are getting accustomed to the level of effort it takes to shut their opponents down each night.
“The defense always starts on the ball and if you have someone who can guard the ball you have a chance; if you don’t have someone who can guard the ball, you have no chance. It starts right there. The second part of it would be experience so they’re more engaged and it can only happen through games and the process every day in practice doing the same things over and over. Getting them to become their habits verses them having to think through some of the stuff defensively.”
As he did after the Florida game, Calipari doled out praise to EJ Montgomery for his beyond-the-box-score performance in the second half.
“I thought EJ was unbelievable. Not only did he rebound and block shots, but if you watched him weak side, he did some unbelievable stuff and that shows me that we’re getting better. Keldon’s behind off the ball. Ashton’s behind off the ball. Someone called me today about Tyler, how he’s been defending. It’s been good. It’s been good.”
As Cal mentioned, one player who’s struggling as of late is Keldon Johnson. Not only has the freshman been held to 15 points or less in the last four games, he’s one of the few players getting beat on defense. Cal attributed Keldon’s struggles to anxiety over individual performance.
“Probably just feeling pressed about individual performance and then you just focus on your guy and your area and what’s happening with you. It just takes time for them to understand and trust that when you lose yourself in the team, it makes you even better. When you lose yourself and become a willing passer – are you ready? – you score more. I don’t know why, if it’s karma or whatever the heck it is, but if you worry about yourself, life is lonely. And in the game of basketball, when you’re totally worried about yourself, it’s hard for anybody to help you get better, to make easy plays for you. And you make the game difficult for other people.
“Now, that being said, he’s made unbelievable strides and he’s getting better game to game. And he’s got a great attitude about it and he knows where he’s got to get better. So that’s why I feel good about what we’ve been able to do defensively.”