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Kentucky Basketball: Gonna Live or Die by the 3, Whether They Want to or Not

Until we start knocking them down, teams are gonna force us to make outside shots.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The saying ‘you live by the sword, you die by the sword' is a saying that originates as far back as the bible.  Today it is juxtaposed with a basketball saying, ‘you live by the three, you die by the three.'  For many of those teams that the saying would apply to, this is a choice made by the coach.

These teams game plan is to overwhelm the other team with a barrage of outside shots and demoralize them.  On cold shooting nights, these teams stand little chance of beating a decent team, ergo die by the three.

While this is an exciting brand of basketball to watch, in the long run you cannot be Championship caliber relying on this.  Kentucky is DEvolving into one of these teams, but not by theirs or Coach Cal's choice.

Big Blue Nation is very used to seeing other teams go to a zone, pack it in and make the ‘Cats beat them from the outside.  Every year of Coach Cal's tenure in Lexington, this is not a bad play to make.  The Patrick Patterson's, DeMarcus Cousins', Anthony Davis', Willie Cauley-Stein's, and Karl Anthony-Towns' of those years made this a virtual requirement to have a chance to beat UK.

More often than not (190 times out of 228 to be exact) this strategy failed to produce a win vs. the ‘Cats.  The reason Cal has won 83% of his games before this year is because we hit just enough outside shots combined with finding ways to make the aforementioned big men involved that the other team's defensive strategy was rendered moot.

Over the past six years, even the most casual UK Basketball fan has watched guys like Chris Lofton, John Jenkins, Lee Humphrey, and Chris Warren stroke three after three and wondered why we could not have shooters like that at Kentucky.  Shooters like that to destroy these "scared" zone defenses.

The college game is becoming a guard dominated game (at least in the NCAA Tournament) and Coach Cal has adjusted by bringing in a group of recruits that are guard heavy.  Big Blue Nation was giddy at the thought of a team leaving opponents struggling to figure out which shooter to worry about... only to have Marcus Lee and Skal Labissiere down low to clean up and feed off the strung out defense.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to dominance... we forgot how to knock down the outside jumper.  Combine that with the fact that Skal is clearly nearly the bottom of a somewhat steep learning curve and what you have is the most uncomfortable 7-1 record BBN has ever felt.

Tyler Ulis is struggling to find his shooting form, Jamal Murray is streaky, and Isaiah Briscoe seems to have zero confidence in anything other than a layup.


There does not seem to be help on the bench either, Derek Willis is shooting 33%, Charles Matthews 25%, and Dominique Hawkins 13% from three.

In years past, having a big man like Towns and crew made up for subpar shooting, but until Skal Labissiere catches up with the college game, we do not have that luxury.  Knowing that, teams will be doing much of the same, sagging into a zone and daring us to beat them with outside shooting.

This begs the question, why can a team full of guards not hit outside shots.  The answer to this is ... well, there is no answer to this, and they should be hitting at a much better clip.  It seems like just yesterday Isaiah Briscoe won the Ballislife three-point contest and proclaimed he was the best three-point shooter in the country.

My thought on this is that Coach Cal is so adamant about driving to the rim they do not have the swagger to take teams up on their dare to beat them from outside.  The good thing about a mental issue is that adjustments can be made, and over time, there is no Coach better at adjusting to his players than Coach Cal.

There is also the angle of Skal Labissiere improving and Marcus Lee further developing to even out the balance.  Let us not forget Labissiere's past, he came from Haiti and his ‘handler' did him no favors by setting up a team where Skal did not get the proper coaching or competition to prepare him for the next level.

This is going to mean some growing pains, as we have seen recently, but the kid is talented, cerebral, and WANTS to get better.  Skal will come along by season's end when it matters.  If he gets the motor going and can get to 6-7 rebounds a game instead of fewer than 4, then he will turn into the player we all expected.

The bottom line is all things considered, we are 7-1 heading into the tougher portion of our out of conference schedule.  We will know a lot more about this team over the course of the next three weeks.  During that time though, if our guards do not start finding the bottom of the net, we may find ourselves in the same position as Friday night.