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Why Calipari doesn’t use zone (and other things Tony Barbee said)

UK Assistant Coach Tony Barbee met with reporters today to preview tomorrow’s game vs. Georgia. We’ve already shared his remarks on EJ Montgomery with you, but here are a few more things he said that are worth passing along.

1. This team is learning how to finish games

The way Kentucky came together to hold off Arkansas on Saturday was impressive, especially when compared to their performance at South Carolina on Tuesday. Barbee said the number of close games this team has played in so far will only help them down the line.

“Just their will to win, their competitive spirit. We’ve got a group that hates to lose, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to win every game. But these guys are going to battle, scrap and fight. And if you lose a game, it’s only because we ran out of time, not because we gave up or stopped trying. That makes a special group when you’ve got talented guys like we do that care about winning and losing.”

“We ran out of time”? Have Barbee and Bill Self been hanging out lately?

2. They’re working on fouling less

That Cats have had 26 fouls called on them in each of the last two games. Barbee attributed the high number of fouls to Kentucky’s physical practices, and said the team is working on keeping it cleaner during games.

“We did a lot of fouling. We did a lot of fouling. It’s something we work on. One thing we try to do is make a very competitive practice. Coach wants practices to be harder than the game. You’ve guys have heard it forever, and obviously I’ve heard it from him forever: When you are that competitive, you’re fighting. They’re brothers and they’re teammates, but they’re fighting for their opportunities. Our guys are fighting for their livelihoods, so in practice it’s competitive. But, the one thing we try to limit is the grab and the holding and the fouling because that then translates. What you do in practice is what you’re going to do in the game. We’ve got to be more conscious of what we do with our hands on defense. We’re getting our hands on post players, drivers of the basketball too often and it’s too easy for our officials to see and call.”

3. Why Calipari doesn’t use zone

After John Calipari was thrown out of Saturday’s game vs. Arkansas, Kentucky used a zone defense to great effect. Barbee, the zone guru on staff and one of Calipari’s former players, was once again asked why Cal is so hesitant to use zone. His response?

“I can only speak since I’ve been here, but we’ve worked on the zone every year since I’ve been here. I know Coach is–even when I played for him, we had a zone we would work on for just in case. Obviously, he’s a man-to-man basketball coach. He likes the accountability that comes with man-to-man, but he’s always been prepared with the zone in case you need it for a variety of reasons. Obviously, we needed it last game because of the foul trouble, especially with Ashton having those four fouls and the way they were driving the ball. We could not afford to have Ashton foul out of that game, and that’s probably what would’ve happened if we would have stayed in the man.”

4. Ashton Hagans is “indispensable”

Kentucky gets a ton of production from the Big Four of Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards, and Tyrese Maxey, but Barbee said Hagans is the player they must have on the floor to play their best basketball, which is why it’s so important he doesn’t get into foul trouble.

“We’ve got interchangeable parts, but if there’s one guy who would be indispensable it would be him just because of how disruptive he is on the defensive end of the floor for the other team’s offense, how much he means to our offense and his ability to make shots for himself, but probably more importantly how easy he makes the game sometimes for the other guys on the floor. Whether that’s getting Tyrese or Immanuel open shots, Johnny (Juzang) open shots. Getting Keion (Brooks Jr.) and Khalil (Whitney) open shots. Or then finding Nick (Richards) and EJ (Montgomery) for lobs. Nate (Sestina) open shots. We don’t have a lot of guys like him that see the game that way with the ball in their hands where they can create one-on-one and beat their man, and then has the vision to see the other nine guys on the floor. That’s a special attribute he has.”

5. Shoutout to Johnny Juzang’s rebounding

Finally healthy, Johnny Juzang is beginning to make an impact in games. After the freshman guard grabbed five rebounds in Wednesday’s loss at South Carolina, the staff rewarded him with more playing time vs. Arkansas. In 17 minutes (his most PT since the win over Fairleigh Dickinson back on Dec. 7), Juzang had five points, including a three, and one rebound.

“That’s why he got the minutes he got the last game based on what he did at South Carolina, getting those five rebounds in very limited minutes. Unfortunately for Johnny he got sick. Now he’s back healthy and he’s earning his right to play. That’s one of things you’ve always had to do for Coach is you’ve had to earn the right. Nothing’s ever been given for him, and Johnny’s starting to earn the right to get more minutes.”

Enjoy the rest of Barbee’s presser below thanks to our videographer Bradley McKee.


Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

23 Comments for Why Calipari doesn’t use zone (and other things Tony Barbee said)

  1. timbo
    5:42 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

    Good ol’ Nick Sestina. I think he’s at his best when he’s on the floor with Nate Richards. Just my opinion though.

  2. WKY Cat
    5:42 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

    Prepared for zone but never uses it

    • VirginiaCat
      6:59 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

      Cal had no intention of going to zone and this is the proof: He brought Hagans back into the game and CONTINUED to play man defense until he was ejected from the game. Let me say that again. He brought his most valuable player, who had four fouls, off the bench, in a hotly contested game and did not protect him by going to zone. It took the coaching staff to recognize the situation and immediately switch to zone. Cal should have changed to zone when Hagans reentered the game, but he didn’t. It was the right move and particularly necessary when the refs were calling tacky fouls on the cheerleaders and ball boys. Cal’s lack of situational awareness likely would have resulted in a loss. That’s a teachable moment for Cal and I hope that he is willing to accept it. Okay, gentlemen start your engines and let the onslaught begin.

    • WKY Cat
      9:50 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

      I agree. I’ll patiently wait while we are called not real KY fans and cue the Cal history lesson.

    • CrystalBall
      10:50 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

      No professional coach should

    • CrystalBall
      10:53 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

      Sorry about that.Was going to say that no professional basketball coach should be without a zone
      defense. More than one. And be prepared to use them.

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:57 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

      VaginaCat you are part of the vast minority who believes Cal did not get the second foul and ejected on purpose. Go figure.

  3. Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
    6:53 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

    Cal doesn’t use zone because he cares more about having more high draft picks than any other coach instead of more championships. He’s had several teams that would have dominated in zone defense but if he doesn’t see it in the league you won’t see it on his court. I like Cal but stubbornness is what has made some big named teams irrelevant. See syr-a-cused and the University of No Classes.

    • CrystalBall
      10:49 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

      You seem to be a Ky fan. That is why l am puzzled that you don’t understand why Cal makes a big
      deal out of draft night. He cares about winning as many games as possible, including championships. But he uses draft night as a time to send a message to top 5 star recruits.
      Who are more concerned with being a first round draft pick than winning a title. If you want to
      successfully recruit the best you must talk their language. His won-loss record while at UK should
      convince you that he wants to win every game.

    • StuckinLville
      8:48 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

      Crystal, I’m puzzled at you not getting what he is saying in the first place. He is not saying anything about the importance or the draft, but talking about how Cal has made decisions based on the NBA instead of the good of the program. If we had went to zone in 2015 against Wisconsin, maybe we aren’t having this conversation. Or maybe if he was just as loyal to the program as he is his players, Ulis and Booker would have been in at the end of that game. There are a lot of these instances and that’s exactly what Thetruth is saying. I understand Cal’s standpoint at wanting his players to succeed in the lead, but he is coaching at UK, not the g-league.

    • 4everUKBlue
      10:00 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

      Or maybe if Poythress had not been out injured in the Wisc game that would have been the difference. AP was the perfect answer to Dekker.

  4. Matt10
    8:48 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

    As I said right after the game, the last 6/7 minutes of the game was Cal’s best coaching.

    • WKY Cat
      9:47 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

      That funny! Good stuff

    • 4everUKBlue
      10:02 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

      You should be a comedian, also you must also be Righteous1 too because you both say the same things.

  5. ColoradoCatFan88
    11:26 pm January 20, 2020 Permalink

    So happy to see Brooks & Juzang finally start contributing. If we can get a combined double double outta those two this team will be real tough to beat. And imagine if Whitney can figure it out by tourney time!?

  6. Righteous1
    1:37 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

    Cal should get ejected every game, preferably by halftime. UK would have won those games. UK would have lost if he would have stayed in the game. What is pretty sad is that this coach is paid 10 million per season and not too many people believe that UK would have won this game had he not been ejected.

    • Bluehender
      6:51 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

      Take a look at ColoradoCatFan comment above…see, that’s how you make a positive comment. As opposed to what you always do..

    • 4everUKBlue
      10:04 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

      Bluehender, he’s just plain miserable, nothing could make him happy, I’d hate to live like that. Bigblue18’s comments should be required reading for all the negative commenters, scroll to the bottom

    • Bluehender
      12:05 pm January 21, 2020 Permalink

      Thanks for guiding me there 4ever. It really does put things in perspective. People need to learn to just enjoy the ride, and try to live in the moment..Go Cats!!

  7. kyle heavy
    6:51 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

    Everyone knows the answer to this. Because the NBA doesn’t play zone and that is Cal’s number one priority in this “player’s first” NBA Fantasy Factory. Prove me wrong.

  8. antiquefurnitureandmidgets
    7:11 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

    I’m not sure “he’s a man to man basketball coach” and “accountability” are much of an explanation.

  9. zoupman
    8:22 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

    I’m glad to read they are working on fouling less. Yes, SEC officiating is bad, but Cats do foul. Quit doing it so much.

  10. CrystalBall
    11:02 am January 21, 2020 Permalink

    He said Cal cares more about draft picks than winning championships. That is what I was addressing. If I thought that was true I would want Cal replaced immediately. Agree with you
    about Ulis and Booker, and the Wisconsin game. The twins were not effected.