Cats must get tougher on boards



UK head coach John Calipari expressed concern regarding his team’s toughness during his media day interview in October.

One month later, those worries were manifested, as the Maryland Terrapins manhandled the Cats on the boards, consistently outhustling, outworking and out-toughing the Cats to get to the basketball.

The Cats survived the assault, winning the game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., 72-69 in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,732 and a national TV audience on ESPN.

Maryland outrebounded the Cats 54 to 38 and grabbed 28 offensive rebounds, the most the Cats had surrendered in a game since Feb. 10, 2001, against Mississippi State.

“I’d never seen anything like it. I don’t even know if they should have run a play,” Calipari said about the Terrapins. “Just come down and shoot it, rebound it, shoot it, rebound it and then score.”

It was a coming-out party for Maryland sophomore center Alex Len. The 7-foot-1 Lithuanian looked dominant in the center against UK’s tandem of bigs, earning a double-double with 23 points and 12 rebounds — both career highs.

“It’s going to show on the tape. A team with two 7-footers and five guys that can jump above the square should not give up 30 offensive rebounds,” Calipari said. “So we’ll figure it out.”

The Cats had a slight size advantage Friday, having a 4-inch combined height advantage when comparing the most used seven players for each team.

“Our big guys, we’re still teaching them. They left the rim a few times,” Calipari said. “Our other defenders got to go back in there, and they’ve got to rebound and we didn’t.”

The Cats closed out on Maryland’s long-range shooters and forced miss after miss from behind the arc. The Terrapins went 3-of-19 from long range, missing their first 14.

Those misses caused long rebounds on the Terrapin side of the court, meaning the guards had many more opportunities to clean up the mess. Time after time, it was the Maryland guards crashing the boards, capturing the ball and resetting the offense.

Maryland guards combined for 17 rebounds. UK’s guards gathered just six.

“Archie Goodwin had two rebounds,” Calipari said. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

When asked what Calipari would have the team working on, junior guard Jarrod Polson said, “Rebounding — among others.”

The Cats will have a great chance to show improvement against Duke on Tuesday night. The Cats have an 11-inch cumulative height advantage over the Blue Devils when comparing seven-player rotations that played Friday night.

Despite starting 6-foot-11 senior forward Ryan Kelly and 6-foot-10 senior forward Mason Plumlee, Duke was outrebounded by a vastly inferior Georgia State team Friday.

Despite these advantages, the Cats will have to show toughness in another national TV encounter. If they allow the Blue Devils to control the boards by outhustling and outworking them, it will be a disappointing night for these young Cats.

“It’s a great learning opportunity,” UK sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer said. “I know we’ll be able to watch film, and film doesn’t lie, so it’ll show us all the things we need to work on.”