Pearl had plan to attack UK defense and Calipari says defense has to improve

Bam Adebayo (Vicky Graff Photo)


Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said his team had a clear way that it wanted to attack Kentucky’s defense Saturday — and it worked reasonably well.

“The only way we could score was to bring their bigs underneath the basket, set ball screens, and drive it down the hill. That wasn’t very pretty, and it doesn’t require a lot of passing. It’s just T.J. Dunans or Jared Harper, guys who’s not very striving downhill in scoring space,” Pearl said.

“Whether it was years ago when I coached against Ohio State and Greg Oden, or when I’ve coached against Kentucky’s bigs. We’ve always done it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the farther I get Bam (Adebayo) away from the basket, the better fighting chance we have. He beat down a lot of balls and they’re going to see that all year long because they’re so good defensively.

“We thought we could turn a corner. We made some tough twos, they blocked some shots. We made nine threes and we probably should have made 13 or 14. I didn’t think that once our guys got downhill kicked it out enough to compliment getting to the rim, but I thought we would get it to the rim.”

Sounds reasonable — but not to Kentucky coach John Calipari. He said Auburn didn’t pull Adebayo away from the basket.

Instead, Calipari said Auburn — like every team — let whoever Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis was defending go to the basket.

“Space the court. Now you beat him (Gabriel or Willis) on the dribble,” Calipari said. “They have got to get better. Understand, every team is doing the same thing to us. This is not hard. If you can’t move your feet and stay in front of everybody, either I have to play a zone or you can’t play.

“That’s why I want Mychal (Mulder) we went small lineup. Let Mychal try to stay in front then.

At the end of the day, if we’re going to be anything, it will be because we’re a terrific defensive team. We’re not there yet. We’re just not.

“But like I said, it’s a great win. These kids are trying. I love the chatter in the locker room. They were talking and you know, when kids are excited, they chatter. So you had just everybody in there talking and it was – then they talk louder and I’m in my office and I can hear them in there. That’s what I want to hear. I want to hear that at dinner. You know, it means they care about one another. They like each other. There’s some emotion between them.


  1. The Kentucky defense has been criticized by many this season. Let’s look at what that means in context and comparison to the other 7 Calipari coached UK teams:

    2017 1.244723372 0.91145192 0.333271452
    2016 1.197545937 0.930962146 0.266583791
    2015 1.196453085 0.793180907 0.403272179
    2014 1.170374981 0.94130365 0.229071331
    2013 1.098471036 0.927605281 0.170865755
    2012 1.202676779 0.870151018 0.332525761
    2011 1.175195767 0.90205438 0.273141387
    2010 1.155880755 0.875641419 0.280239336

    The facts are a little different. This is Coach Calipari’s 5th best defense. 2015 #1, 2012 #2, 2010 #3, and 2011 #4. So, the defense is not awful, but it could be better than it has been, especially if this team wants to make a serious run at the championship, it should be better than it has been. The difference between the 3 better defenses are 0.118 ppp higher than 2015, 0.041 ppp higher than 2012, 0.035 ppp higher than 2010, and 0.009 ppp higher than 2011. No team, prior to or since 2015 has played defense the was the 2015 UK team did, so the realistic basis of comparison would be 2012 and 2010.

    In 2012, the Cats’ opponents got 487 offensive rebounds and scored 415 second chance points, 0.852 ppp on second chances. So far this season, opponents have scored 207 second chance points on 197 offensive rebounds, 1.058 ppp for second chances. That is an increase of 0.208 ppp for 2017 as compared to 2012. The second chance points through 17 games averages 12.2 ppg, and if the second chance efficiency was equal to the 2012 result, the second chance points would only be 9.5 ppg, and 2.7 ppg reduction, which would lower the adjusted defensive efficiency to only 0.890 ppp.

    In my opinion, the answer for this team’s defensive issues is found in the opponent’s second chance possession efficiency of 1.058 ppp. This team needs to figure out how their predecessors could prevent opponents from scoring at such a high rate after getting offensive rebounds.

  2. He is always slamming Willis for his D and now Gabriel too. They have their limitations unfortunately. Foot speed is God given and if you don’t have it people are going to go by you. Willis is a lot better than players who played his position in the past and so is Gabriel. Wiltjer comes to mind. There’s a guy who had people go right past him. It’s the main reason he transferred IMO. The writing was on the wall. Great shooter, great passer, good hands, but slow feet. Willis isn’t that bad compared to Wiltjer and the Cats won a title with him playing. Of course they had other people to play that position most of the time. I’d love to see Willis step it up on D. He’s much better than he was last year. But he has limitations and I have a problem with criticism of someone that just isn’t able to play D the way Cal likes He’d probably have a problem with me on D these days too. It would hardly be fair to air his disappointment in me in public though. The bottom line is I think Willis can take it so Cal uses him as an example for guys who can’t take criticism. Sometimes you get everyone to play better by yelling at one guy a lot.

  3. RP use to do that as well. He once said he would scream at Pelphrey when he was mad at MIller because Miller would co into a shell and we needed his 3 point shooting. LOL

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