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November 7, 2012

Cats clamp down on Transy shooters in second half

Transylvania's Brandon Rash broke from the top of the key. He was sprinting to the rim, UK's Willie Cauley-Stein riding along his hip. Both leapt at the rim and though Cauley-Stein tipped a piece of the ball, but Rash flushed a jaw-dropping slam that put Cauley-Stein on a poster.

The jam brought the Pioneer faithful to their feet. Even UK fans sounded impressed. But John Calipari wasn't.

Not because Cauley-Stein was dunked on, but because UK only led Division III Transylvania 17-16 with 8:32 to play in the first half.

Calipari took a timeout, discussed strategy, and from that point on UK outscored its' Lexington neighbor 57-12.

"The problem was I think from that point on (after the dunk) we didn't score very many more times," Transylvania head coach Brian Lane said.

Kentucky held Transylvania to just 10 points in the second half, and 11-of-42 shooting on the night.

In last season's Battle of Broadway, the Pioneers shot 31.1 percent on the night, compared to this season's 26.2 percent. Transylvania also scored 30 points in the second half last season, compared to just 28 in the game on Monday.

The Pioneers were able to stay in the game last year by shooting 38 three-pointers, connecting on 12. Lane complimented the Cats for stopping Transy's three-point barrage this season, holding Transylvania to 3-of-20 shooting from behind the arc.

"This year we couldn't get them off," Lane said. "We were trying to get threes off and they held us only to 12 in the first half, they close so well. If one guy makes a mistake, the next guy is there."

UK's three-point defense has a simple philosophy, at least in its exhibition games. Try and block everything. Over-pursuing was the name of the game, and if the shooter used a pump-fake and blew by the UK defense, there would be someone waiting inside.

Whether contested by Cauley-Stein, Nerlens Noel or any of UK's lengthy defenders, no shot came easily for the Pioneers after Rash's dunk.

The Cats only blocked three shots on Monday, including one from Noel after he swatted four shots in UK's first exhibition against Northwood. But intimidation kept Transylvania from attacking the rim.

Calipari is telling Noel to focus on being an all-around defender, and to let the shot blocking take care of itself.

When Pioneer shooters would shot fake and drive into the paint, they were advised not to shoot over the much larger UK defenders.

Transylvania's Ethan Spurlin didn't listen. He tried shooting over Noel late in the second half, and his shot was vehemently denied. The block stayed inbounds and less than 20 seconds later Noel scored on a layup.

"A lot of teams have to beat us by shooting perimeter shots since we have two big forces of Nerlens and Willie inside," Mays said.

Spurlin's decision to attack the rim left Lane staring him down and shaking his head.

"Last year we just had Anthony Davis that would block 35 shots," Lane said. "This time it was the next one and the next one (blocking shots)."

But UK's lockdown second-half defense can't just be traced back to Noel. Senior Julius Mays said the team had a better effort in the second half.

"I think we came out with just a lot more energy, we got after them," Mays said. "We let our defense turn into our offense instead of forcing things."

UK scored 20 more points in the second half, and improved its 42.9 first-half field goal percentage to 71.4 percent in the second half.

But Calipari said his team's dominating second-half performance can be traced back to defending the three-point line, holding the Pioneers without a three-pointer in the second half.

"You're going to have teams that are going to try to beat us at the three-point line…," Calipari said. "We're showing we can guard the three a little bit, as a matter of fact better than we did a year ago at this time."

And if UK can stop other teams from scoring from behind the perimeter, Calipari likes his chances. Even if it means giving up a dunk or two during the game.


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