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Kentucky coach John Calipari working on zone defense daily for first time in coaching career


For the first time in his coaching career, John Calipari said he is having a team work on zone defense every day. In fact, he said he’s even talked to Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who always plays a zone defense, about the zone and Boeheim has praised the way UK plays in the zone even if Calipari is quick to abandon it if a team hits a 3-pointer.

“We are using nit. It has been effective,” Calipari said Friday of the zone defense. “If I had a game where I had to play zone the whole game to win, I would do it. I would love to be a guy that could do that (play zone all the time). But that’s just not me.”

Kentucky did use the zone more frequently in the Tuesday win at Mississippi, but Calipari joked that the pro-zone fans forgot that the Rebels scored four straight times against the zone to get back in the game the second half.

“But I am getting better at teaching it and understanding it,” Calipari said.

He said freshman Aaron Harrison is UK’s “best zone player” and said he “is like a cat” with the way he uses his long arms to create havoc with passing lane.

“You watch his brother (Andrew), and he is not a cat. I said to Andrew, ‘You won’t believe this, but your arm is as long as his arm and you could do the same thing,’” Calipari said. “I tell you who else is good in the zone. Jarrod (Polson). It has helped us.”

He said Auburn coach Tony Barbee, a former player and assistant coach under Calipari, said UK’s zone was good but that UK’s man-to-man switching defense limited what opponents could do.

“If you play zone, you know they will get off 3’s. If they make them, we lose. But playing man means contested shots,” Calipari said. “But it (the zone) is a good change up and good defense for us. It has been good.”

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  1. LindaS

    I never understood why he never worked on zone before. I like zone defense. Box-up, 2-3, 3-2, or match-up. I like the match up where you can leave one guy to defend the one who can hit the long shots. Man to man but zone in on the rest of the court. Maybe if they play more zone they will be able to play against a zone better. Just my thoughts and I don’t know much. Man to man is exhausting, constant chasing. Get your zone, run him, block him and defend him on your terms. Just what I would do. Mix it up, go 3-2 then 2-3 and throw another one in there during the same 30 seconds if you are able to do it and really confuse them…that is, if they don’t get confused first. I know you guys with the expertise of x’s and o’s will blow me out of the water but that is what I would like to see. IF the KIDS have the fundamentals than this should not be so much of a problem.

  2. Ira

    Well Linda you know more than me that’s for sure. I like the idea of transitioning out of man to man then zone and back. Seems it would really mess with the other team’s game plan.

    But I will admit I’m a football first guy. So it’s up to you basketball nuts to really discuss it.

  3. ukcrazycat

    With the length UK’s players have and with no one having great speed, we should have been playing a zone most of the year. I have expressed this in a few other articles on Vaughts Views, even asking if Cal knew how to coach a zone.
    When you play against a zone defense you need players who can shoot over the zone and pass the ball into the post. From what I have seen of Derek Wills he can do both rather well. I think the only thing keeping him off of the floor was his defense but with him being 6’9″ and if Cal were to play a 2 / 3 zone, he could really contribute. Playing a zone and against a zone, II like the line up of, Harrisons or Poulson playing PG, Young and Aaron at 2G, Willis and Poythress at SF, Randle at PF and WCS at C. But then again I could be crazy.

  4. Larry Pup

    I like zone defense too if a team can play it effectively. A good shooting team however will get you out of a zone defense quick. I’m still in Cal’s camp for a “on em like glue” man to man.

  5. Jason

    I can’t believe a coach has never taught zone defense! That explains a lot! First Cal has to learn there’s a difference between a poor zone defense and great zone defense. Yes, a team can get off easy / uncontested shots against a weak zone. But a good zone team plays the passing lanes and forces the player off his spots. Cal, because he’s unfamiliar with zone does not realize that a great zone requires the same level of intensity as man-to-man, but the expended energy is focused for each player. Now if only Cal could learn more about Pick-n-Roll and Screens on Offense.

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