Following Tuesday night’s win over Tennessee, Rick Barnes said his team’s plan was to limit production from Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel at the four position. Willis and Gabriel did not perform in Tennessee’s upset of the Cats in Knoxville, so the Vols set out to shut them down once again, rather than focusing on the tall task of stopping Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo.
“We were willing to let the other players pretty much do what they had done. Adebayo, Fox, Monk do what they do. We just didn’t want that fourth guy to really step in there,” Barnes said after that game.
Barnes isn’t the only person who sees the importance of the four for Kentucky; in fact, anyone with eyeballs knows that can be a make or break position.
Calipari said yesterday he will turn to Mychal Mulder in that spot if Willis and Gabriel aren’t giving him anything, but Willis and Gabriel will each get their time because that is how the team is practicing.
“Instead of trying to put a big team out there that we’re not playing with, let Derek and Wenyen get their time at four. If we want to slip them to three at times I will. And I’m also really working on that first unit of guys. I’m really focused on that unit playing well, especially if that unit’s going to play 25 minutes together in a game. I’ve got to spend 75 percent of my time then working on that unit because they’re going to be out there the most.”
Gabriel noted that he is seeing a lot more of Willis in practice, in part because of the recent reboot, and it is helping his defense.
He said, “We’re starting to go against each other more at practice now. We used to not go against each other as much, but now that we’re still working on this reboot now we’ve been starting to play against each other.”
“It’s part of the competitiveness,” Gabriel explained, when asked why he is getting more of Willis. “It brings out more of our competitive spirit. Going against him, we know that we sub in for each other. Kind of earn your playing time during practice.”
“It motivates me, but I love to see my teammate do good. It was his game (against Tennessee), but I still think that’s my position as well. It’ll be great if we both play good the same game.”