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.”
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) January 19, 2020
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.