breaking news

Snow causes flight delays, cancellations at Hartsfield-Jackson

Kentucky Basketball: Don’t adjust your TV sets, a zone defense really saved the day against Utah Valley


LEXINGTON, Ky. — It would take something pretty extreme to get John Calipari to lean heavily on a zone defense. Something like, say, fifth-ranked Kentucky trailing Utah Valley by a dozen points in the second half of the season opener at Rupp Arena on Friday night.

Yep, that did the trick. Calipari grudgingly went to his longest lineup — 6-foot-6 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at point guard with Hamidou Diallo (6-5), Kevin Knox (6-9), Wenyen Gabriel (6-9) and Nick Richards (7-0) — and deployed a 2-3 zone with five guys who all have wingspans of 7 feet or longer.

Calipari can despise it all he wants, and does he ever, but it’s tough to argue with what happened next for Kentucky: 11 unanswered points in 88 seconds and an 18-0 run that gave the Wildcats a lead they would never relinquish.

Kentucky 73, Utah Valley 63 was hardly an inspiring first result, and it raised some real red flags, but Calipari and Co. avoided abject disaster. Thanks to the zone.

“I’ll be honest: We haven’t spent a lot of time preparing [for] zone yet. It did what it was intended to do,” former UK player and current Wolverines coach Mark Pope said. “Smart move by Coach Cal. The zone always has its holes, but if you can have a big zone like they do with their point guard and everyone else, it has a chance to be really effective. It certainly was, I thought, the difference in the game for us.”

All told, the Cats probably played about seven minutes of zone to start that second half, but it’s all they needed. They forced five turnovers in a little more than three minutes during the big run — three steals in a row by Gilgeous-Alexander, two leading to monster dunks by Diallo — and for the game had 8 blocks and 11 steals.

“At halftime, I said, ‘This is good for us. Let’s see who we are. Let’s see who is willing to fight,’ ” Calipari said. “We went zone and it kind of got us going — and that’s what we should use the zone for.”

RELATED: Gabriel delivered big on a night he couldn’t score

Those words must’ve tasted like sour milk in his mouth. He’s a man-to-man purist from way back and he treats zone like the four-letter word that it is.

“I have had seasons where we have not played one [possession] of zone,” Calipari said. “The issue becomes I have a responsibility to teach these kids how to play pick-and-roll defense, how to stay in front of people, man-to-man. I mean, from here on [in the NBA] there is no more zone. They’re going to have to learn. But I also have a responsibility to win, so I’ll play as much as I have to, to win a game.

“If we played seven minutes today in zone, would you say that’s more than we played all of last year?”

No, that’s probably an exaggeration. But not a huge one. You get the point — and Diallo gets Calipari’s.

Diallo is the guy who claimed at SEC Media Day last month that his coach was “falling in love with zone” in practice, an idea at which Calipari promptly laughed.

“He’s never going to get crazy about it,” Diallo admitted after Friday night’s game in which he had 18 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. “We’re still going to be a man team first. We’re going to have to buy into defending. I wouldn’t say [zone is] a weapon. I would say it’s something that we can use, just adding to our repertoire. But our weapon is always going to be our man-to-man and we’re going to have to lock in and get better at it.

“When it comes to big games, we’re going to have to be able to guard [individual] players.”

RELATED: No. 1 recruit R.J. Barrett picks Duke

Gilgeous-Alexander, who like Knox had 4 steals Friday, likes the zone as a change-up to get teams off balance.

“Us guarding spots instead of men is going to be tough for other teams’ offense to score on us,” he said. “Early in the year, [Calipari] told us that he’s never really used zone but we’re so long and athletic that he’s going to have to. You guys so what it did today. It really helped.”

This is probably where Kentucky fans, who’ve heard Calipari claim he’s toying with the idea of a zone several times over the last eight years only to watch that idea go the way of the Dodo bird as soon as one opponent makes one 3-pointer against it, are rolling their eyes. But this is a different kind of team and it might require a new approach.

“Anybody loves going on an 18-0 run with steals and fast breaks,” Diallo said. “So I loved playing it today. Whatever’s getting us going that day, that’s what we’re going to have to stick to. And that’s the great thing about this team, that we can do many things to get us going.”

The post Kentucky Basketball: Don’t adjust your TV sets, a zone defense really saved the day against Utah Valley appeared first on SEC Country.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

Leadoff: What new Braves GM said about Acuna, third base, 2018 season
Leadoff: What new Braves GM said about Acuna, third base, 2018 season

While most folks around here were still dissecting the Falcons’ and Bulldogs’ season-ending losses, MLB Network Radio was talking baseball, of course. And if you missed it, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos made an appearance there Sunday.  Here are Leadoff’s takeaways after listening to a recording of the interview: ...
In this era of progress, good no longer good enough for inconsistent Wizards 
In this era of progress, good no longer good enough for inconsistent Wizards 

The Washington Wizards' dichotomy of past futility and current stability muddles what to think of this strange season. They're in the middle of a period in which they're better and more reliable than they have been in nearly 40 years, and there must be some comfort in knowing their problems aren't as onerous as they used to be. On the other hand, if...
It’s halftime in the NBA: Team power rankings
It’s halftime in the NBA: Team power rankings

The 34-point hammering absorbed by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Toronto on Thursday night occurred in the 615th game of 1,230 dates on the 2017-18 NBA schedule. The exact midpoint, in other words, of the regular season. So as the up-and-down Cavaliers prepare to host their old friends from Golden State on Martin Luther King’s Birthday, it&rsquo...
Alabama, UCF headline list of college football prediction hits and misses 
Alabama, UCF headline list of college football prediction hits and misses 

Damien Harris burst out of the Alabama locker room moments after the Crimson Tide captured the national championship.  Harris joined his teammates following their thrilling 26-23 overtime win over Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but the junior running back had a message for those who doubted this team.   “People said we weren&rsquo...
Mike Zimmer is another coach Jerry Jones whiffed on
Mike Zimmer is another coach Jerry Jones whiffed on

Of the many screw-ups committed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager and president of the Dallas Cowboys over the past two decades, not giving his defensive coordinator even a cursory interview in 2007 will forever remain one of his most perplexing decisions.  In August of 2006, Jerry Jones said of his defensive coordinator, &ldquo...
More Stories