Cats struggle defensively against physical Blue Devils


Kentucky freshman guard Ashton Hagans reaches for a loose ball during the game against Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

The young Duke Blue Devils brought sharp-shooting, physical post-play and lock-down defense in the highly anticipated rival game in which they blew out the Kentucky Wildcats 118-84.

The Cats had no answers defensively in their first game of the season against the Blue Devils—or offensively, either.

Defensively, it was a night the Cats simply couldn’t get ahold of. Kentucky struggled with its matchups and finding ways to defend freshman Zion Williamson, the forward who scored 28 points, seven rebounds, one block and a steal. The five-star Spartanburg product gave Kentucky big problems down the stretch, and Kentucky had to find different ways to guard him along with his talented teammates.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari had to implement some defensive schemes that he hasn’t been too quick to use in the past—like the zone his team went into towards the end of the first half.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski thought his team responded well to the Cats’ defensive efforts.

“I think when they went zone, our guys did a really good job too. We got them inside, we made plays, these two guys (Williamson and RJ Barrett) really flashed well and they made plays for other people, so we made that adjustment,” Coach K said.

Barrett scored 33 points and six assists for the Blue Devils and gave the Cats a lot of problems defensively, along with Williamson.

“It’s difficult because he’s a physical player and he puts it up in the refs’ hands a lot of the time as far as the way he’s attacking you because he makes it difficult as far as staying in front of him without fouling and he puts a lot of pressure at the rim,” Kentucky forward Reid Travis said.

Coach Cal thinks not being able to put enough pressure on the ball hurt his team defensively against the Blue Devils.

“Even in the exhibition games we didn’t create turnovers. I said that to the staff. There’s something that we’re missing here because we’re not creating any turnovers…. I mean, four turnovers?” Said Coach Cal. “Either they’re the greatest ball handling team in the history of basketball or we’re not creating enough havoc.”

Travis gave credit to the Blue Devils, saying “they played very mature out there the way they were talking on defense and attacking rim,” while at the same time both him and Calipari said they didn’t do enough defensively.

Calipari says this game serves as a learning experience for himself, his staff and his players.

“This is one that you watch the tape, learn from it, boom, move on,” Coach Cal said.