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January 15, 2013

Notes: Lacking a stopper, Calipari tries a zone defense

Kentucky is hungry for wins.

That has the Cats trying different things, and expect UK to turn to the "Cal Zone."

It's no secret that coach John Calipari prefers man-to-man defense to a zone, but as the losses continue to pile up Calipari is looking for answers. And after Texas A&M's Elston Turner dropped 40 on the Cats, UK's defense needs some tweaks.

So Calipari went as far as employing a zone in Saturday's loss.

"I played more zone in that game than I have since I've been the coach here," said Calipari, who also played a zone on the final possession of the previous game, a win at Vanderbilt. "Maybe that's something I go to."

On Saturday the Cats - who host Tennessee Tuesday at 7 p.m. - tried an unorthodox zone that Calipari called "active." It at times looked liked a 3-2 zone, at other times a standard 2-3, and even a few times a 1-3-1 featuring Willie Cauley-Stein in the middle.

"We've been working on it (in practice)," Calipari said. "We've spent more time on zone defense in the last two weeks than we have in my entire coaching career."

And that adjustment has pained the Kentucky coach, who used the word "hate" twice in describing his feelings about the zone.

"We've won a lot of games, a lot of league championships, a lot of league tournament championships, a lot of NCAA Tournament games playing man," Calipari said. "So, no, I know that's the best way to do it. But I also know, more than anything else, I want this team to have a chance to win. So I've got to look at everything and say, 'How?' and be honest about it and not worry about me, because it's not about me. This is about this team."

And this team needs to play at least some zone., in part because Calipari isn't sure if he has a lockdown defender. UK certainly didn't against Turner.

Calipari sees potential in Archie Goodwin but he still has a ways to go.

"He did good, then he tired out," Calipari said.

Goodwin might have been too fatigued to guard Turner but Calipari had no other options.

UK tried Alex Poythress on Turner to start the game but Calipari called that a mistake. Only having one lockdown defender was problematic for the Cats during crunch time on Saturday.

"The last five minutes, we're up four and (Goodwin) just dies on screens, gets beat, couldn't sustain it," Calipari said. "Well, he shouldn't have been in the game that long. That's not his fault, that's my fault."

Cal wants Cats Stoked
Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes provided the bulletin material, and Calipari wants his players to use it.

Stokes, a sophomore, scored a combine 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting with 10 rebounds in two losses to Kentucky last season.

He was also blocked multiple times by last year's Wildcats.

"I saw it was all over ESPN; I'm definitely not used to getting my shot blocked,'' Stokes said last February, according to GoVolsExtra.com. "That's something I will learn from. I have to stay with my mechanics, using my left hand and throwing my body into them, that's how you defeat a shot blocker, and something I'll do next time.

"It definitely made me more hungry. I definitely wanted to win. If anything, I want to win at Rupp Arena. I plan on winning, before I leave, at Rupp Arena. I'm saying that on the record right now. It made me more hungry and made me dislike Kentucky more.''

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Stokes added to that in July.

"We'd walk into Rupp Arena (last year) and say, 'OK, maybe we can beat them, but we probably won't. It's definitely different this year," Stokes said. "We plan on winning in Rupp Arena."

Stokes, who averages 11.2 points on 52.3 percent shooting and 7.7 rebounds per game, will have that chance Tuesday when the Volunteers visit Rupp Arena.

And Calipari didn't forget the nearly year-old quote.

He doesn't want his players to forget it, either, as they look to raise their intensity and match Tennessee's physicality.

"This is a big game," Calipari said Monday. "Stokes says, 'We're winning in Rupp Arena. We're not losing in Rupp Arena.' All right, how do you take on that challenge? Because I imagine he will be ready to play."

Foul play
Calipari is tweaking his defense, but the offense needs some fine-tuning, too. And Calipari wants some of his players to diversify their scoring options.

He pointed specifically to Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays as players who need to find ways to get easy points, specifically at the free-throw line.

"Are you going to fouled?" Calipari said. "Kyle, are you going to get yourself to the foul line? Julius, get yourself to the line. Maybe you can't get a shot. Get fouled."

In 15 games, Wiltjer has 16 free-throw attempts. Mays has 28. The two are shooting a combined 86.3 percent from the foul line.

"You've got to be aggressive, play through bumps and be tough, ball fake and go in with the idea you're going to get fouled, not going to avoid contact and say the guy grabbed me," Calipari said. "They ain't calling that. You've got to go in with an idea to hit baskets. Ball fake and go through, not ball fake and avoid, fadeaway, step back, all of that stuff that we're doing."

Publisher Brett Dawson contributed to this report.


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