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Kentucky Basketball Freeze Frame: Analyzing Three-Point Defense

Inconsistency continues to be an issue for the young Wildcats.

Citi Hoops Classic - Kentucky v Monmouth Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Kentucky’s toughness was criticized by many writers across the Big Blue Nation after a lackluster showing in Knoxville on Saturday night.

At times, it looked like the young Cats took a punch to the gut and gave up. But in the team’s first two SEC contests, we applauded the energy and hustle. This back and forth highlights the inconsistency that we can expect to see from college basketball’s youngest team.

Another area where we see discrepancies in the Wildcats’ statistics is in their ability to defend the three point shot.

UCLA torched the Wildcats for 12 of 30 (40%) from beyond the three point arc. But since, the Wildcats have held opponents to 19 of 92 (20.6%) long range shooting.

After the win over Georgia, coach John Calipari admitted to seeing improvement in the Wildcats’ three-point defense.

“Well, again, we watched the UCLA tape. The 12 threes that they shot, we were nowhere in sight. All 12. It was H-O-R-S-E. Now you see us running at people. You see us running through. We’re desperate to get to the guy versus, wow, he got that shot. We’re now in a desperate mode. We’re practicing that way. The guys are getting to three-point shooters. Now there were some threes that were open today that they missed, but there were a bunch that were covered. So we’re getting better with that, but you’re seeing teams, when a team makes 12, 15 threes against you, you’re probably going to lose.”

Tennessee went eight of 22 (36.4%) from three. I hand charted each of Tennessee’s 22 attempts and noted whether or not a Kentucky defender got a hand up in the shooter’s face and contested the shot. The Wildcats contested 12 of the Vol’s 22 attempts (contesting 55% of attempts), semi-contesting two shots and leaving the Vols wide open for eight shots.

But more importantly, Kentucky defenders only contested three of the Vols’ eight made three pointers.

The below screen shots were the three made Tennessee threes where Kentucky defenders contested the shot (though it should be noted that I was kind in giving Wenyen Gabriel a contested shot in the top right screen grab as there is a lot of space between him and the shooter.).

The three made Tennessee three pointers where Kentucky gets a hand up.

But then in the next five screen grabs, Kentucky defenders are too late to contest or nowhere to be found.

Kentucky leaves Tennessee wide open.

And two more where Kentucky leaves the Vols open.

Tennessee has a great look at the basket.

At times, the young Wildcats displayed the desperation Calipari is searching for in running through and getting a hand up to defend against the three point shot. At other times, Wildcat defenders were nowhere to be seen.

After the game, Calipari quipped, “And then the start of the second half. I mean, we were literally standing with cheerleaders on a bunch of shots.”

If Kentucky is going to rebound from this loss in Knoxville, it will have to be more consistent about closing out on three point shooters. Kentucky gave Tennessee too many open looks, and the Vols capitalized.

But then again, don’t expect the same thing twice from this version of the Wildcats.