With the matchup against West Virginia coming up this Thursday night for the Cats, it’s time to look at how Kentucky has done against teams that play with a similar style, ones who like to pressure the ball…a lot. WVU loves to press and will be looking to force turnovers against Kentucky. They lead the nation in forcing steals. Kentucky has faced opponents who like to press, for example Louisville and Arkansas. With that being said, let’s look at how Kentucky has matched up against teams who have given them slight trouble with turnovers and how those games could indicate an outcome for the Cats in Cleveland.
Kentucky @ Louisville
This was a high intensity game, because of the obvious rivalry, but also for the physicality of the matchup. Louisville is knowns for their pressure defense and thrive on getting deflections. Against Kentucky, Louisville had 10 steals. The number of turnovers might be alarming. Kentucky doubled Louisville’s 18-9 by the game’s end. Andrew Harrison was responsible for six of those turnovers but at the same time was responsible for 4 assists. A 3:2 turnover to assist ratio isn’t bad in the grand scheme of things. Let’s keep in mind that was UK’s first true road game. Andrew Harrison is been playing perhaps the best basketball of his career in the past couple of months. Also if you remember back in December, Tyler Ulis actually had his breakout game at Louisville and seemed to play better under ball pressure, scoring 14 points against the Cards’ defense. We can also look at the fact that Kentucky didn’t deflate after their turnovers; they got back on defense and made the shots they took on the offensive end. Basically, Kentucky made up for the fact that Louisville pressured them on offense by making baskets and getting back on defense. The Cats doubled UL’s 3-point percentage 42.9% to 21.4% and had 29 defensive rebounds to UL’s 15. We’ve have seen what happens when a team pressures Kentucky. They throw it over the top and many times it leads to dunks.
Kentucky vs. Arkansas
Arkansas is another team that is known for their ball pressure, but after the experience Kentucky had with Louisville they came more prepared for this playing style. The Cats led in all aspects of the stat sheets aside from free throw percentage and took better advantage of the turnovers that the Razorbacks did make with several layups by both Harrisons and the ever present Willie Cauley-Stein dunk. Tyler Ulis proved, yet again, that he can react well under ball pressure with another 14 points in a game against an in-your-face defensive team.
Kentucky vs. Arkansas (SEC Tournament)
Kentucky met the Arkansas Razorbacks a second time during SEC Tournament play in Nashville and the game was a little closer than earlier on in the season. Was it that Arkansas came more prepared for their second go around with the Cats, or the added pressure of staying undefeated in the SEC Tournament that made things a little more competitive? Either way, Kentucky dominated the defensive boards yet again, led by Willie Cauley-Stein with a total of 10 rebounds. Both teams had similar issues with turnovers, Kentucky having 13 and Arkansas close behind with 12, so the ball pressure was an equal problem in this game. But as they did against Louisville, the Cats played to their strengths in other areas such as their 51.0% field goal shooting and even higher 58.3% of their 3-point shots. Kentucky makes up for what an opponent’s ball pressure defense takes away from them by running the court and making the shots that they take.
So now we can look at what the Cats are going to do against a WVU team that loves to pressure the ball just like UL and Arkansas. Ball pressure has proven to give Kentucky some problems, especially in terms of turnovers, but it hasn’t really negatively effected the Cats yet. WVU’s ball pressure isn’t going to be a problem for Kentucky if they can continue to make up for the forced turnovers by taking advantage of their strengths.
In the three games mentioned above where ball pressure is the defensive style of the opposing team, Aaron and Andrew Harrison made a combined 12 three pointers. Kentucky’s shooters will be our advantage if they can hit, and it’s about time for Devin Booker to get hot from beyond the arc. WVU’s defense actually isn’t that strong if you can beat their press. Andrew Harrison has been playing phenomenal basketball recently. He has only had six turnovers in the last five regular season games, a solid improvement from where he was earlier in the season. Tyler Ulis will also be a key considering his ability to react well under defensive pressure, especially if that’s what WVU intends on throwing at the guard who scored 36 points combined in the 3 games where he was under a lot of ball pressure. If the Cats can utilize Ulis’ ability to react well to intense defenders and Cal’s preference to throw the ball over a press, we can look at a 37-0 record coming out of Cleveland Thursday night.