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Kentucky Basketball: The Tweak the Wildcats Need to Make

The full-court press could be the spark the Wildcats need.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Texas A&M
Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt are a tough trap for opposing defenders to dribble away from.
C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats need a ‘‘real tweak to get things going in the right direction.

Kentucky was lifeless to start the second half against Texas A&M. The Aggies pounced all over the Wildcats to lead by 23 at one point.

For the first time under John Calipari, the Wildcats lost three straight games and with a tough schedule remaining in an improved SEC, many are wondering if UK will even make the NCAA Tournament this season.

But is there still hope for Kentucky to bounce back this season?

The Wildcats sprung to life late in the second half, inspired by an up-tempo style. Kentucky, of course, beat West Virginia in Morgantown a couple of weeks ago playing the Mountaineers’ fast paced style. Should Kentucky look to turn up the defensive pressure moving forward in an effort to jump start the offense?

I tracked each of the Cats’ full court defensive press possessions against the Aggies on Saturday night. I charted when Kentucky forced A&M into a turnover before getting to the halfcourt line, which I called a press turnover.

If the Aggies got the ball into halfcourt and then turned the ball over, I called that a regular turnover. The Cats pressed with less than a minute to go, but went into auto fouling mode, so I didn’t count those possessions for the purpose of this chart.

Kentucky started pressing full court with 8:45 remaining in the second half with the Wildcats trailing 63-45. From that point forward, Kentucky outscored A&M 29-22. In 12 defensive pressing possessions, the Wildcats held the Aggies to 0.75 points per possession, forcing them into turning the ball over before even making it to halfcourt on 25 percent of their possessions.

The full court press worked to limit the Aggies and get Kentucky going on offense.

When the Wildcats are playing with energy, they seem to be at their best.

As Calipari said, “You’re not very good. And when you’re in that fighting mode and all of a sudden all of the good stuff that you have in your body comes out you really look like a good player and you’re playing for us instead of yourself.”

Perhaps a full court press is the tweak needed to add a jolt of energy to Kentucky’s game.

But will Calipari use the full court press throughout the game or only once the Wildcats enter desperation mode? 12 possessions is a small sample size, but at this point, anything is worth a try.