By LARRY VAUGHT
Just how good was Kentucky’s defense in Monday’s 69-48 win over Michigan State in the Champions Classic in New York? Let Michigan State coach Tim Izzo tell you.
“Well, I’m actually a little embarrassed. I felt like we competed defensively for the most part, we just didn’t do anything offensively,” Izzo said. “We looked like a team that was an AAU team; just went one-on-one, didn’t move the ball, got frustrated. I think some of it was that we were a little fatigued and I think John (Calipari) did a hell of a job. I do think that is one of his better defensive teams. They did a very good job.”
Calipari had an easy explanation for Michigan State’s offensive woes.
“What happened is these guys took some pride defensively here. And some of it — Michigan State, they run great stuff and they iso and do things that force us to prepare beyond where we are,” Calipari said. “In other words, we’re playing the elbows and blocks when he hasn’t. That’s how we played (Miles) Bridges, so when he drove there was already somebody in his lap, which is why he turned it over.
“But we hadn’t worked on it. We did it in one day, but that shows you how smart these guys are. Our pick-and-roll defense still stinks. Like, they were going right down the middle for layups. We gotta go back and look at that and figure out what we gotta do there.”
Calipari worried Monday that Bridges might overpower his team. Instead, he had six turnovers. Calipari watched two Michigan State game tapes to prepare for how to defend Bridges, a freshman.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of time to do much, but we did a couple things knowing that if he got going he would be a beast. He had 12 rebounds, guys. The way we played, we just made it made it really difficult for him to just play basketball,” Calipari said.
“Tom (Izzo) will use that and show ‘em and they’ll come up with stuff. Tom, great coach and a good friend. What he said to me after: ‘You guys defended better than us this game.’ And that’s what it was. Because our offense, we shot 38 percent. We shot 38 percent and won by 18 or whatever it was.”
Isaiah Briscoe said Calipari had been “preaching” defense to his team. Remember Calipari also said in October that he thought this could be a special defensive team by March.
“He just worries about the defense. The offense will take care of itself. But the more comfortable we get with each other the more we talk on defense, the better we are on defense,” Briscoe said. “Then we’re getting rebounds, blocking shots.
“If I get the ball, Malik or Fox, any of us, we’re running. We’re trying to get layups, things like that. Like I said, that’s when we’re playing to our strengths, and that’s when we’re at our best.”