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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel has moved into the national lead in blocked shots and is now ahead of the record-setting pace Anthony Davis had last year thanks to 46 blocks in the last six games, including 12 in Tuesday’s win at Mississippi when he dominated the outcome despite scoring only two points.
“It’s a beautiful thing to just go in there and quiet them down, especially when they get high to just bring them right back low. That’s what we were prepared for, what we were prepared to do, just go in there and do our thing, just really play ball. I think that’s what we did from the tip,” Noel said today as he looked back on the win. “A lot of people think it’s about scoring, but every team is always going to have its given scorers, two or three guys that are always going to get the majority of the buckets. Defense is something that’s undervalued on some teams. It can change the whole game in significant ways. That’s what my focus was the other night, knowing that offense wasn’t going (my way), I wasn’t shooting the ball as much. So on nights like that, you’ve just got to take 100 percent pride in your defense and just do the best for your team. (You) always gotta find a way to be effective, no matter what.”
He shared various thoughts today on his game and play going into Saturday night’s game at Texas A&M
Question: When did he realize he was having record-setting game?
Noel: “I didn’t think of it as otherworldly. I know that’s one of my better parts to my game is blocking shots, and I do my best to do it at a high rate as well. I definitely tried to stay on it the whole game. I wasn’t sure I had that many blocks until someone told me, but I’m never sure how many blocks I have. I just go out there and block as many as I can.”
Question: How did he block six shots with four fouls?
Noel: “It was one point when I was very cautious of the four fouls. Ryan’s man went by him and he scored. I knew I had four fouls, but I knew that wasn’t how we was gonna win the game, by me just staying back and not blocking shots. I definitely took it to play smart and just definitely avoid contact when they came to the basket, and that’s what I did. I just anticipated what they were doing, trying to jump into my body. I definitely took a different angle at blocking the shots and just staying away from the contact. I just did my best for that, to stay away from contact so the refs didn’t blow their whistle.”
Question: What has changed during his recent shot-blocking spree?
Noel: “Just the mindset I have. I know I’ve got to step up for this team to have the success that is expected. I’ve got to take a leadership role and really apply myself to this team, just give my all and just really do my best for this team so we can meet our expectations if not exceed them.”
Question: Did coach John Calipari tell him to be more aggressive with four fouls?
Noel: “Cal told me to stay cautious and they needed me on the court. But I knew I wasn’t going to be as effective if I was just laying back and just letting them score. We wanted to win the game, and I felt like that was a game we really needed to win at that time of the season. It was my choice to just really get more aggressive but also playing smart at the same time.”
Question: How important is it for UK to follow the Ole Miss win with another victory?
Noel: “It’s real big. We definitely owe them something. We’re definitely a different team than when we played them last. Certain players have stepped it up, just really started doing what they need to do for this team and playing a big role. We’ve changed a lot since then, and it’s going to be big for us to get this win and keep this thing going the way we want it to so we can really, really completely turn that corner and just really make our own identity for who we want to be and how far we want to go.”
Question: Is he motivated knowing Elston Turner scored 40 points on UK when Texas A&M won in Rupp Arena?
Noel: “That’s something we have to feel a certain way about, someone dropping 40. We’ve got another chance to play them. Whoever guard him, whoever is on the court that’s going to guard him, one of us has to just feel some type of way and really just have a certain determination to really get in him and lock him down and not let him get shots off.”