UK’s defense continues to shut down opponents


Willie Cauley-Stein (15)of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Providence Friars at Rupp Arena on Sunday, November 30, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky defeated Providence 58-30. Photo by Ben Rickard

By Nick Gray

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Providence head coach Ed Cooley was flustered, frustrated and flabbergasted. 

Cooley, like his team, could not figure out a way to solve UK’s suffocating defense on Sunday. By the second half, Cooley took off his coat jacket, a universal sign of a coach’s long and stressful day of work.

No one was scoring against the Cats on this day.

Cooley’s Friars led for most of the first half but eventually wiltered against UK’s quick, gigantic defense in the second half in the Cats’ 58-38 victory.

“Everybody boasts about the length of this team, and they should,” Cooley said. “We just couldn’t run any offense, and a lot of that had to do with Kentucky.”

The Friars, who shot 16 percent and scored 16 points in the second half, usually put the brunt of their offense on the shoulders of senior forward LaDontae Henton, who averages 24.3 points per game on the wing and notably scored 38 points in a comeback win for Providence against Notre Dame last weekend. 

UK’s defense focused in part on junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein defending Henton while the first platoon was on the floor. Hinton struggled to a 1-for-8 shooting performance.

Henton was notably less aggressive against his 7-foot counterpart, and Cauley-Stein said he believed that Henton was very tentative from the beginning of the game.

“I think he was holding back on me,” Cauley-Stein said. “Watching game film, he was doing all kinds of stuff. I was like, ‘This dude is tough.’ We got into the game, and he didn’t do any the stuff he did on film. It made my job easy. I just had to be around him.”

Providence fell short of UK’s ever-shrinking average points allowed per game statistic that now stands at 44.6 points per contest. The Cats are second-best in the nation in scoring defense.

“(Our defense) starts with ball pressure,” said sophomore guard Andrew Harrison.

And freshman guard Tyler Ulis brought that pressure throughout the end of the first half and extending through the second half. UK was down four points when Harrison left the game with two fouls in the first half. Ulis came in and  “changed the game,” said Cats coach John Calipari, forcing Providence guard Kris Dunn into three of his five first-half turnovers — including a five-second violation for holding the ball for too long — in a three minute span.

“He came in with unbelievable energy and bothered their point guard,” Calipari said. “(Ulis) took (Dunn) out of all the stuff they wanted to run.”

Inside and out, UK’s defense continues to shut down good opponents as it approaches its toughest month of the schedule, with plenty of tests to come.