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The Zone Defense Kentucky Installed Friday Shut Down Arkansas

Nelson Chenault | USA Today Sports

Nelson Chenault | USA Today Sports

John Calipari does not like to play zone defense. Zone defense is exactly what Kentucky needed to sprint past Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena. None of it happened on Coach Cal’s watch.

Kentucky trailed 47-44 after Arkansas knocked down technical foul free throws following Calipari’s ejection. Needing stops to spark a big run, Kenny Payne and Tony Barbee changed things up with a zone defense.

Basically our hands were tied,” Payne said after the game. “One of our best players, our leader, Ashton Hagans, had four fouls. Well, how do we keep him in the game? If we stay man they’re going to drive, he can get a foul and he’s out. We go zone and he’s guarding air. That’s what we decided to do, which really helped us.”

It wasn’t just a regular 2-3 zone either. Let Nick Richards explain.

“The zone worked well because we guarded their shooters. We actually played like a man-zone. We guarded their shooters on the court and then the one guy who likes to drive to the basket, we had one guy basically chasing after him, so it worked perfectly for us,” Richards said.

An obscure defense, Arkansas did not know what to do against it. They had no idea it was coming because they had never seen it before. Neither had the Wildcats, until yesterday.

“I think we practiced it yesterday, for a little bit — for a little bit — because Coach Cal doesn’t really run zone,” said Tyrese Maxey. “We just went to it, trusted what they said to do and just went out there and executed.”

Stunned by the defense, Arkansas went almost five minutes before they made another shot. Meanwhile, Kentucky ran up and down the court, scoring 15 straight points to put away the Razorbacks.

“Coach Barbee doing the zone was unbelievable,” said Payne. “It gave us the ability to play Ashton Hagans with four fouls, which we need him on the floor. On the other end, we ran a play where it’s Ashton’s play where he gets to make decisions. Like a true point guard, he made the right decision.”

Payne, Barbee and Joel Justus made the right decision to pull the trigger and run a defense they had hardly practiced. Their risky moved worked to perfection.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

31 Comments for The Zone Defense Kentucky Installed Friday Shut Down Arkansas

  1. StuckinLville
    8:07 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    Why do I have the feeling that if Cal was never ejected, we lose this game? His stubbornness to use zone defense has cost us many games and he should trust his assistants.

  2. ghilbert77
    8:08 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When coach Calipari leaves, I hope Kenny Payne is the choice to be next head coach. He deserves it.

    • syrin23
      9:19 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

      I agree. I think that’s one reason he has stuck around so long. I imagine he is interested in the position too.

    • UKgrad80
      9:35 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

      I agree 100%

  3. BigJohnC
    8:16 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    Looked good from my house

  4. 4everUKBlue
    8:20 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    Down goes duke at home!

    • 4everUKBlue
      8:21 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

      All those recruits we lost to K couldn’t beat LittleBrother on their home court.

    • ColoradoCatFan88
      8:25 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

      Now all I need is for McGregor to knock Cowboy out within the first 2 rounds and it’s a perfect day in sports for me. I had $100 on Kentucky, $100 on loserville, & $150 on McGregor

    • ibescootch
      6:48 am January 19, 2020 Permalink

      Not a bad day for you, I see!

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:18 am January 19, 2020 Permalink

      I’d be pissed if I paid to watch that fight, luckily I found a pirate site. Arrrr!

  5. blukat
    8:30 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    I have always wondered why Cal doesn’t play more zone with the type of players he recruits. Our guys would foul less and force the other team to make consistent shots to beat us. Imagine the smothering zone defense we could have implemented with the length/athleticism of some of our past teams.

    • StuckinLville
      8:55 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

      Exactly. Remember when the 2015 team would play zone with Willie at the top of the key?

    • syrin23
      9:20 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

      Because he views UK as an NBA developmental league, and the league doesn’t play zone.

    • ClutchCargo
      10:10 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

      Syrin, do you even watch basketball? NBA teams do play zone, it just looks a little different than the college version due to the defensive 3 second rule.

    • syrin23
      12:00 am January 19, 2020 Permalink

      They don’t play zone like this, not even close, and all the top teams play man to man with switching off on screens, but it is man to man.

  6. Bill Jackson
    8:50 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    As is usual, on the for UK on the road in the SEC, must be good enough to win against the other team, AND the three men in stripes. Any sportswriter out there want to research where the SEC officials attended college? If another SEC school, then they probably witnessed UK beat their team routinely. Think the ref’s and NOT human, and bias, think again. By the way, is there ANY other job in the US where you can not be held accountable if you do a bad job? No wonder why the they get worse , rather than better. If I was a couch making millions, I would not care if I got a fine from the conference, I would tell it like it is, until things got better. If enough people held them accountable, then they would get better

    • kentuckybackupplayer
      9:31 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

      THe only other jobs I know of that u can suck and still keep ur job are weather person and hookers.

  7. WKY Cat
    9:24 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    I can already hear the responses on this thread. “You all aren’t real KY fans if you question Cal”. The the history lesson is thrown out. ?

  8. UKgrad80
    9:35 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    I see no reason why Kenny Payne should not be our coach after Cal. The players love him and the man knows the game!

  9. Skooms
    10:08 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    WOW! Some of you are idiots. Do you really think Cal didn’t do that on purpose?! Maxey even said they practiced that very same man zone today!! WHY would Cal have set that up today if not for the potential of using it? The ejection worked PERFECTLY! It lit a fire under the team AND Cal can say the zone decision was Kenny and Barbee. He’s promoting his assistants.

    • ClutchCargo
      10:12 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

      Well, duh! Clearly KP held a secret practice, didn’t tell Cal, and taught the team how to play zone. 😉

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:19 am January 19, 2020 Permalink

      You guys are killing

    • VirginiaCat
      11:40 am January 19, 2020 Permalink

      Good Lord, do you really think that Cal would purposely give the opposing team 4 FTs and possession at a critical time in the game? If so, that would be coaching malpractice. The truth is that had Cal stayed in the game, we would have lost. He wouldn’t have gone to a zone, Arkansas would have maintained its momentum, and there is a good chance that Hagans would have fouled out. The “…ejection worked perfectly,” you say. Oh, brother.

    • BuzzedBaker
      11:56 am January 19, 2020 Permalink

      Virgina, find me one video of a head coach getting tossed that does not feature at least one assistant attempting to run interference and preserve the coach. In Cal’s case he has an assistant whose soul job is to do that (Robic) and where was he? Standing quietly at the bench. Cal knew EXACTLY what he was doing when he went after the officials. How else do three assistants install a game winning defense and offensive strategy in the 45 seconds it took to take 4 free throws? If this was not planned and truly was all spur of the moment then Justus, Barbee and KP will be the first assistants inducted into the fall of fame.

  10. Robinson73
    10:25 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    Big time win today ? we had to win that game or we would have fallen out of the AP polls

  11. Cletis75
    10:50 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

    It’s not just the zone! It’s switching up defenses to keep your opponent off balance. Keep them guessing, and never let them get comfortable.

    • makeitstop
      11:25 pm January 18, 2020 Permalink

      Bingo. I remember Boeheim was way down to UVa in the tourney a couple years ago and went to a press, really i characteristic… caught up then went back to the 2-3 and UVa couldn’t adjust, kept trying to race up and down the court. Totally out coached. Just changing it up disrupts their offense unless they are veterans and hv experience together to draw on. I like the occasional zone but the disruption was what really worked.

    • VirginiaCat
      11:49 am January 19, 2020 Permalink

      The assistant coaches made an adjustment at a critical juncture and it turned the game around. Arkansas was coming at us hard, the crowd was in a frenzy, and the double technical gave the Razorbacks 4 free throws and possession. Going to a zone stopped Arkansas’s momentum, kept Hagans from fouling out, and took the crowd out of the game. It was the difference in winning and losing. In your heart or hearts, you know that we would have lost had Cal stayed in the game.

    • Urincatland
      2:49 am January 20, 2020 Permalink

      Agree 100%!!

  12. DerBaron
    12:18 pm January 19, 2020 Permalink

    Coach Rupp disliked playing zone too but he would when it was necessary. All coaches have a tendency to stick with what has worked in the past.

    • VirginiaCat
      12:57 pm January 19, 2020 Permalink

      That’s an excellent point. We do tend to stick with what has worked in the past, whether it is coaching, business, or other lines of work. The key is a willingness to recognize news trends, be adaptable, and abandon old ways that interfere with future success. The next couple of years will tell us a lot about Cal’s direction, whether he can replicate the success of his first seven years or if he has plateaued out.