Calipari’s Cats could learn from hoops squad

By Alex Forkner | @AlexFork3
aforkner@kykernel.com

If you’re a follower of UK basketball, both of the male and female variety, you’re familiar with concepts like “effort” and “energy.” Well, men’s head coach John Calipari might want to take his team to a UK Hoops game to ensure they’re familiar with the concepts too.

Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell’s squad took to the Rupp Arena floor, displaying the energy and effort Calipari bemoans his team for lacking.

In the first six minutes of action, the Cats sent a shockwave through the school-record 18,488 fans in attendance, jumping out to a 25-2 lead and basically ending the game just after it started.

At one point, UK was on pace to score 200 points, and based on the team’s relentless defense converting turnovers into points, one had trouble denying such a feat to be plausible.

Mitchell’s team is driven by his defense, so much so that a 14-3 run by DePaul to answer his team’s hot start concerned him.

“I think sometimes what happens when you make the big opening run, there’s a tendency to relax and there’s just so much basketball left,” Mitchell said.

The offense struggled to run set plays, but Mitchell wants to see defensive effort first and foremost, since that can lead to transition points. Mitchell praised sophomore guard Jen O’Neill for her aggression on offense, but said her defense was lacking.

“Jennifer O’Neill is not playing defense the way that they want it to be played. So four players are really, really hustling, and Jennifer is, compared to those four, relaxed. So I think that’s still a work-in-progress,” Mitchell said.

O’Neill smartly agreed, saying she agrees with everything her coach says. And coach definitely knows best on this one.

UK’s athleticism at every position makes them a nightmare for opposing teams. Junior forwards Denesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker can extend their defense into backcourt, their long arms obscuring passing lanes. The stable of guards fly from sideline to sideline, swiping at every vulnerable dribble.

DePaul head coach Doug Bruno doubted the Blue Demons would meet a better defensive team than the Cats, unless they were matched up against Baylor or UConn.

UK’s early defensive pressure had DePaul flustered to the point where getting the ball across halfcourt was a major accomplishment. The Blue Demons managed only three field goal attempts in the first four minutes.

If UK can somehow maintain that type of intensity for 40 minutes, the Cats will be borderline unbeatable. Even so, responding to runs from the opponent is also important, something Mitchell was pleased his team did, winning the first two four-minute segments of the second half.

“That sort of settled us down, and then we were able to break it open,” he said.

Breaking it open is something the Cats will do a lot this season, especially with the type of effort they displayed tonight.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll have enough effort and energy left  in the tank to donate to the men’s team.

‘Tis the season for giving, after all.