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Did UK improve their perimeter defense, or did TSU just change their game plan?

UK’s inability to guard the three-point line has been a major concern so far this season. Entering last night’s game, Kentucky’s opponents were hitting 44.1 percent of their three-point attempts, and the Cats came in at No. 345 in the country in three-point defense.

Tennessee State, on the other hand, entered last night’s matchup with a season of thriving from behind-the-arc. The tigers ranked fifth nationally, averaging 12.2 successful three-point baskets through their first five games. Over 48 percent of their offense was coming from the three-point land, and over the course of the season, TSU was attempting an average of 32.2 three-point shots per game.

“This season we play fast and we want to take over the threes, especially when in transition,” TSU head coach Penny Collins said. “If we can get a good quick one up, we are going to take it every time.”

But something changed last night against Kentucky – Tennessee State only attempted 16 treys, sinking just six of them for 37.5 percent. So what was it? Did Kentucky’s perimeter defense finally show signs of improvement? Or did Tennessee State just change their game plan for a matchup against a tougher opponent? With the risk of offering up a cop-out response, the answer is probably both.

John Calipari addressed the discrepancy between TSU’s three-point attempts last night versus the rest of their young season, arguing that Kentucky’s lack of defense in general allowed the Tigers to drive the ball inside more than they usually are able to.

“They probably watched the tapes and said you know what, we don’t have to take threes,” Calipari said. “Let’s just drive the ball, which I thought they would do. My thing was they would spread the court, use clock and then try to beat somebody on the bounce. I thought they had a pretty good game plan in what they were doing. And then they were physical.”

TSU’s Coach Collins admitted to deviating from his team’s traditional game plan.

“Tonight, with Kentucky being so elite in transition and so great at rebounding, we really wanted to apply the pressure on them by getting multiple hand touches. We want to pass up good shots for great shots and we did that,” Collins said. “I felt like this was the lowest amount of threes we have taken in a game this year, but at the same time, it did provide us with the opportunity to stay competitive the entire game instead of coming down taking quick shots.”

But while the Tigers may have adjusted their usual method of attack, Kentucky’s improving perimeter defense also played a role. After getting crushed by the three against Winthrop, the Cats knew they had to strengthen their defense around-the-arc.

“It was something we were expecting, for them to throw up a lot of threes,” Reid Travis said after the game. “But at the end of the day, that was something that was a point of emphasis for us all week in practice: taking away the three and focusing the two-drive.”

But just because the team’s perimeter defense took one baby step forward doesn’t mean the Cats’ defense is where it needs to be. In fact, it’s still far from that.

“We have to anticipate more, see what’s happening before it happens, not after it happens, which is where we are right now,” Coach Cal said. “And then we’ve got to start helping the helper more so we can trust each other and so we can be more confident on defense.”

That confidence is going to take time and, more importantly, the Cats can’t lose sight of the perimeter defense once they begin to focus more on defending points in the paint.

“I think the next step in our progression of defense is, ok, if we’re going to take away the three, you can close out, move our feet, stay in front of them and contest shots at the rim,” Travis said. “We made improvements… but we can’t take a step back in other parts of our defense.”


Article written by Maggie Davis

I love sports, podcasts, long walks on the beach and Twitter (@MaggieDavisKSR)

17 Comments for Did UK improve their perimeter defense, or did TSU just change their game plan?

  1. N-UR-i
    1:07 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

    Neither. TSU is just one of the worst teams in all of basketball. So they sucked.

  2. Kat4Life
    1:20 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

    In considering Kentucky’s present situation wrt defense, I would absolutely continue to work on man-to-man fundamentals, but why not introduce some more creative approaches ?? Cal’s dogmatic attachment to a man-to-man approach has cost us in situations where we simply cannot keep guys in front of us. It doesn’t matter why….some is youth, some is physical limitations, some is great opponents. Let’s get a few zone or match-up zone concepts installed.

    • RAGE
      1:27 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

      Or some half court traps!!!! Let the athletes be athletes SPEED the game up get more in transition even if we give up some easy shots along the way… I wouldn’t mind to give up a few easy shots just to get a few more fast break points

    • CatsfaninFL
      2:01 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

      While I’m not against adding in zone, it’s not exactly known for stopping the 3…

    • JASUN74
      5:27 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

      Guys I do understand, but we need to keep working on man to man right now. Thats why we have these games at the beginning of the season. You know what will happen around February and March don’t you? Well I’ll tell you. We become one of the best defensive teams in the country every year by tournament time, because we use the regular season to practice it. It’s just the way we have to do it with the turnover we have. We will be a great team this year though. It may take a little longer that some want but I see all the pieces. Just got to get to work. They will be awesome.

  3. catdaddyd
    2:16 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

    Looks like Herro took 4 steps on that pull up three.

  4. TheAssman
    2:37 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

    Say what we will about Pitino, but go back and watch that ’96 team on defense….the trapping and the press. They would absolutely demean, dismantle and demoralize teams in a matter of minutes. We would score points in bunches in transition off the press in just a few minutes. They completely shut down Tim Duncan in that tourney game. I hear all the talk why we cant press, blah, blah, blah…. but if you want to take a team out of a game and press them into turnover after turnover…that ’96 team could show us how it’s done!

    • Luether
      3:05 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink


    • runningunnin.454
      3:08 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

      Pitino ran a successful press at UL,too. I prefer man-to-man in the half court; but, if you want a good press, it has to be a zone press.
      Our HS team ran a 1-2-2 press, and many games, we would have 20 pts on the board before the opponent got the ball past half court. Won a Ky State Tournament with it, too.

    • TheAssman
      3:38 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

      What team Runnin?

    • michaelb
      6:47 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

      So runnin gunnin is 70 years old ? That’s cool not many 70 year olds use the internet in the manner you do

    • michaelb
      6:50 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

      That means he’s at least 70 do you believe that?

    • RAGE
      10:23 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

      That’s awesome you won a state title!!! I know this won’t be popular to say on this site but man I loved the style we played when Pitino was here!!! Man that was exciting basketball and honestly he figured out the no midrange game out long before the NBA. When he was at UK it was either you shoot a 3 or a layup. I think Golden State and Houston Rockets came up with that strategy from those teams we had.. First person I remember saying that he preferred his team to shoot a three than shoot jump shots from inside the arc… Maybe others said it first but I just remember Pitino saying and it stuck with me… As that is when I really became a true blue fan.. I always liked sports in general but became a die hard UK fan like my dad in 92 when that shot happened we don’t want to speak of lol… But I think this team would benefit from a little of that style of play and we are plenty deep enough as a team to run teams and get into their legs plus we have speed to do it also… Just My opinion but I loved that style of ball and the high school kids prefer it also.. I mean Coach K don’t do the pressing but his offense has adapted that style more the last few seasons…

    • runningunnin.454
      5:41 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

      ’67 Earlington Yellowjackets

    • michaelb
      6:46 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

      No way lol . That’s awesome

  5. michaelb
    6:45 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

    Kentucky had so many turnovers that it looked like 10 tenn state players were playing on the court

  6. Aar
    9:47 pm November 24, 2018 Permalink

    It appeared to me that TSU attempted to establish the three early but didn’t have as much success as they wanted. Since they have size, unlike UK’s last few opponents, they tried going inside. With more success inside, the stuck with it. UK is making progress defending the three and they need to start progressing at defending a balanced attack.