By LARRY VAUGHT
Count Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy as one who has no doubt Kentucky’s defensive effort against Louisville today will be far superior to how UK played in last week’s loss to UCLA in New Orleans.
First, DeCourcy says playing the CBS Sports Classic in New Orleans two days before Christmas was “really a mistake” because of the low fan turnout, even by UK fans.
He wasn’t using that as an excuse for UK’s sometimes lackadaisical play, but he did understand how that could have contributed to the way UK played.
“If you are a Kentucky player, even a young player, you are used to playing in front of a lot of people. Then you go down there and it’s basically an empty gym,” said DeCourcy. “Sure, you should still have great intensity and that obviously was missing for Kentucky. No excuse, but you can see how it might happen.
“Young teams can have trouble letting their defense impact their offense. UCLA has skilled players. I said before the game you had to take those skilled players seriously and if not, UCLA would make you pay. Kentucky’s lack of defensive cohesion really showed. They were way too lax on defense. Then on offense, it became hero ball. Guys were just doing too much on their own, or trying to do too much on their own.”
If Kentucky was playing any team except Louisville today, DeCourcy said it might be prudent to worry how UK would bounce back effort-wise. However, even a freshman dominated team knows how important and intense the UK-Louisville rivalry is and probably always will be.
“You will probably have the best crowd in terms of engagement for the game that you have seen to this point,” DeCourcy said. “That does not necessarily mean Kentucky will play together, but I will be shocked if their defense is not a lot better.”
Here’s the part UK fans should pay attention to. It’s the same thing Kentucky coach John Calipari has said about the Cardinals.
“Louisville is a lot better than UCLA,” DeCourcy said. “They have five guys who can all score and really play. They have a great starting five, but not a great bench. The bench is not awful. It’s just not quite there yet. Kentucky’s job is to make sure the reserves don’t come into a comfortable spot. They need to make it difficult on those reserves from the beginning.
“Kentucky has to amp up the intensity level on defense that was not there in New Orleans. Kentucky’s point guard play was not great against UCLA.”
No it wasn’t. Quade Green had trouble making shots, something he has to do to help offset his defensive liabilities. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a better defender, but not the outside shooting threat Green can be.
DeCourcy believes UK’s point guards might be getting more blame for the UCLA loss than they deserve.
“Often the ball was taken out of the point guard’s hands. The point guard would make a pass and what happened too often is the ball would get bounced and bounced into a tough spot,” DeCourcy said. “They struggled for leadership. There’s nobody that can tell a player that he takes a bad shot and he should not do it except the coach. It’s hard to communicate from the sideline.
“If Quade is struggling with his shot, how is he gong to go to somebody else and say not to take those shots. It’s not going to happen and that’s why UK’s problems against UCLA were about a lot more than just the point guard.”
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