Defensive woes, Kansas’ defense puts the brakes on UK in the loss


Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk reacts in the closing seconds against the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday January 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff

Anthony Crawford

In the 79-73 loss to the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks, No. 4 UK men’s basketball was once again left looking for answers elsewhere after its fast-paced ways were halted by its opponent.

For the second straight game, the Cats were held below 10 fast break points, leaving the young team with few other options in what would turn into a two-game losing streak. Both the Volunteers and Jayhawks mixing in zone defenses didn’t help UK’s offense but UK’s own defense shoulders some of the blame as well.  

“We just got to say, look, guys if you want to do this, you got to be a defensive team first,” head coach John Calipari said. “Now, if you defend and rebound, what does that give us an opportunity to do? Fly. If you can’t stop a team from scoring, how are you going to play fast? You can’t play fast. So if you want to run, you got to defend first.”

Both Tennessee and Kansas were able to get to the spots they wanted on offense and UK suffering a beating in second chance points and points in the paint was the result.

Over half of Kansas’ points (44) came in the paint against UK. While that number may be higher than usual because the Jayhawks struggled to shoot from outside in the first half, it still points out that they were able to get inside and convert on enough quality looks inside to really hurt UK.

“They were able to get to the basket and hit second chance points,” Dominique Hawkins said. “I felt like at times, we weren’t communicating on defense and playing lazy defense. And they took advantage of it.” 

The easy buckets inside were back-breakers for UK as they tried to come back in the second half but they were also crucial in that every made layup or put back by the Jayhawks was one less opportunity UK had to get out and run. 

UK’s offense has struggled other times since conference play began but UK had its crutch of getting out in transition to lean on. One game that stands out is the road win in Nashville, Tenn. against Vanderbilt. The refs played a big role in UK never really settling into a rhythm on offense but the Commodores chucked up enough bad three-point attempts to give UK all the opportunities in transition that it needed.

In UK’s last three losses against Louisville, Tennessee, and now Kansas, the opposing offenses were more disciplined and, in turn, were able to force the issue of UK having to look elsewhere for offense in the half court.

Kansas and head coach Bill Self rattled the UK offense with a zone and increased focus on Malik Monk. After Monk scored 12 points in the first half to lead UK, he was held to just six points in the second on far less efficient shooting. 

UK’s other freshman guard De’Aaron Fox showed his age in his carelessness with the ball. He finished with five turnovers to lead UK, which as a team threw it away 17 times.

Even though UK was still within reach in the closing minutes, an offensive rebound and put back from Kansas freshman Josh Jackson essentially sealed the game. 

UK finished the game allowing 10 offensive rebounds, while also being on the losing side of points in the paint (44-34, KU) and second chance points (17-7, KU). The brakes from this two-game skid, have effectively led to the UK offense coming to a screeching stop, but improvement will have to start on defense for the Cats to turn it around.

“This was, we got out-toughed and we didn’t guard the way we needed to guard, which is all curable,” Calipari said. “…The greatest thing about this group is they will want to win and they will want to learn.”