Ball movement huge in UK hitting its stride against Vols


Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk dribbles against the Tennessee Volunteers at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY on Tuesday, February 14, 2017. Kentucky defeated Tennessee 83-58.

Anthony Crawford

The No. 13 UK men’s basketball team hit enough threes in the first half to cover nearly any mistake that it made, the problem for their opposition the Tennessee Volunteers was that there were not many mistakes that needed covering up, allowing the Cats to pull away and settle into an easy 83-58 victory.

The Cats played their best game since the skid that saw the team lose three of four games, which started on the road in Knoxville, Tenn. against these Vols. Along with the great shooting from long range, UK showcased some of its best passing and played solid defense and as a result the team resembled the fun team from the start of the season.

In the week and a half since head coach John Calipari deemed that this team needed a ‘reboot,’ UK’s defense and offense have both made strides. During the skid, teams simply had to sit back in a zone to put a halt to UK’s fast-paced attack, but the Cats hit top speed against Tennessee thanks to better ball movement. 

UK tallied 17 assists on 32 made field goals, but even that doesn’t speak to how well UK executed as the team missed a lot of great looks during some stretches of the win.

“I think it was the extra pass. And then we started the game, it’s not just ball movement, it’s player movement, too,” Calipari said. “We started the game and we had worked on it and one of the guys didn’t do it, you’re out. Then all of a sudden you saw pass, cut, cut, cut, pass cut, and all of a sudden it was like the dam burst.”

The ball zipped around and UK was even able to incorporate some post touches into its offense. But when the doubles came or the shots weren’t there, the ball kept moving and UK’s offense greatly benefited because of it. 

In the first half, the ball movement led to mainly shots from deep, and UK showed that it can hit another level when those shots fall. The Cats knocked down 10-of-18 threes in the opening half, which helped the team put up numbers in bunches and pull-away early. 

“The threes we took were the threes we should have taken. And we passed up shots to give a guy a shot. And it’s great to see,” Calipari said.

In the second half, the deep ball started not to drop, as the team only made 1-of-7 attempts from deep, but that just forced UK to get inside more. The ball movement helped in keeping the UT defenders a step behind, and UK did its part in attacking closeouts leading to quality shots.

A lot can be said about the offense, but that may be because it’s been a while since this team has hit it’s stride on that end. But a lot can also be said about the defense as UK forced Tennessee into 35 percent shooting.

“I thought our defense was as good as it’s been since the beginning of the year. I thought we crowded the lane a little bit, I thought we helped, we rotated,” Calipari said.

Along with the low efficiency from the floor, UK also cut out a lot of easy points from the Vols inside. UK allowed 42 points in the paint in the two teams’ first meeting and in Rupp Arena Tuesday that number was cut in half and then some as UK only surrendered 18 points inside. 

UK also did well in disrupting Tennessee’s offense forcing 13 turnovers which led to more opportunities for the team to get out and run.

The performance overall from UK was as complete as the team could ask for and even including small bonuses like Monk grabbing a new career-high in rebound with eight and Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox combining for only one turnover.

Asking for UK to play to this level isn’t crazy because it already showed it at the beginning of the season. Now with the team getting back to the better ball movement and more discipline on defense, wins like this and play from earlier should follow.