“Did (John) Calipari just run some Spain action after the timeout,” he asked himself out loud watching Kentucky’s 78-64 comeback against Vanderbilt on Tuesday night at Memorial Gymnasium.
Immanuel Quickley’s two clutch triples inside of the final four minutes of the contest helped Kentucky prevail in what has turned out to be a tough start to the week for the Cats and their fellow SEC frontrunners in Auburn (survived another overtime thriller against Alabama at home) and LSU (squeaked past Missouri by four point at home).
Quickley’s massive makes were partly a result of the previous encounter this season between Kentucky and Vanderbilt, with the first bringing another Kentucky comeback, this time from 10 points down to ease their way past the Commodores back on Jan. 29, 71-62.
In that game, Kentucky used a similar offensive set in three possessions inside of the final eight minutes that Vanderbilt had absolutely no answer for.
Today’s upcoming piece is a fun one for me because Spain offense brings some of my favorite sets in basketball.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) February 13, 2020
Kentucky killed Vanderbilt in both meetings this season down the stretch of each game with the same Spain action and scored in different ways.
First, the lob. pic.twitter.com/M9sIrLmt6J
On the international scene, the Spanish National Team (and the high-powered teams based in the country of Spain itself) run some of the best offensive sets among the world’s best teams not in the NBA.
Their actions can be found in basketball offenses all over the globe, including the offensive sets that Calipari and the Cats run.
In this set, Nick Richards comes to set a high ball-screen for Ashton Hagans with Immanuel Quickley rising up the lane to come set a backscreen for a cutting Richards with the floor spaced by the two other players on the floor in the corners (Nate Sestina and Tyrese Maxey). Richards gets around the Quickley screen as Hagans drives left and with Sestina and Maxey’s defenders glued to them in the corners, Richards catches the easy lob from Hagans.
Hagans hits Richards again here with the lob off the Quickley backscreen, but what made me laugh was Calipari shouting at Maxey to clear out to the corner so Hagans could initiate the play. pic.twitter.com/AAvroJEHxv— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) February 13, 2020
With the Cats leading by seven and looking to put Vanderbilt away in the first game, the ball works itself back to Hagans at the top of the floor. This set took a little longer to initiate because Calipari had to hilariously yell at Maxey to space the floor and get back to the corner.
Once again, Hagans looks to drive left and basically denies the screen as Richards cuts down the lane in a different body position this time, but instead of squaring and planting himself in the middle of the lane for a backscreen, Quickley pops up to the space Hagans left. (Remember this part of the set for later. It’s going to come back around.)
As Quickley’s man switches onto Hagans’ drive with Hagans’ man left behind the play up top, Richards’ defender tries to collapse on the drive, leaving Richards plenty of space again to catch another lob.
Three possessions inside of the final eight minutes with the same result: a lob dunk for Richards off the same action. pic.twitter.com/rqxgpdn80r— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) February 13, 2020
After getting another stop defensively, Calipari goes back to the Spain ballscreen action one more time as a cherry on top. The ball works its way back to Hagans at the top of the set again.
You can see Hagans tell Quickley that he’s fine where he is at the nail and instead of giving the appearance of a hard drive left again, Hagans lulls his man and drags Quickley’s man and his eyes out to him, allowing Quickley to set a backscreen on Richards’ man again to finish off another alley-oop and the game.
Now, here’s where Immanuel Quickley threw two daggers at Vandy this week.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) February 13, 2020
This is FC Barcelona’s Spain ballscreen action that results in a popout 3 a few years ago. He doesn’t get the backscreen for the big set, but it works out. pic.twitter.com/bGhOx2Dg7D
Now, here’s where Quickley’s shooting ability comes into the set. (Did you remember the part where I said, “Remember this part of the set for later”? Because if you did, here it comes.)
This set is from a few years ago in a Euroleague game featuring FC Barcelona, one of the best non-NBA basketball teams on the planet.
Looks familiar, doesn’t it? It should because this is extremely similar to how Kentucky finished off Vanderbilt this week.
The big man shows a high screen and rolls down the lane while the ball-handling guard drives and kicks to an open man up top for 3. This is exactly what Kentucky did twice in crunch time and it worked both times.
And here’s the first Quickley dagger ATO.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) February 13, 2020
Vandy collapses on Hagans and Richards, leaving Quickley wide the hell open for 3. Nylon. pic.twitter.com/R4fNLsAEN7
Kentucky led by five with just under four minutes to go and could’ve really used a bucket on this possession with Vandy rallying after no foul was called on a Maxey transition layup at the rim. After the timeout, Calipari called for ol’ reliable against the ‘Dores, only this time, they looked for the shot and not the lob.
Richards comes high yet again to show a screen and rolls down the lane as Hagans drives right this time with his man on his left hip. Richards’ man tries to cut off Hagans’ drive as Quickley sneaks out to the top of the key with his man having no idea where he actually is on the floor at this point.
Hagans knows the kickout pass is there, makes it and Quickley cans the James Harden-esque stepback 3 for the first of two daggers. That’s good coaching and good execution from the Cats.
The second was contested better by Vandy’s defense, but Quickley cans this one, too. (Jimmy Dykes even calls out the similar action in the set.) pic.twitter.com/cYGBT6KlRv— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) February 13, 2020
Kentucky burns a little clock on this possession before you hear Calipari yelling at Hagans to “go get it” and start the play.
Again, Richards shows a ball screen and rolls down the lane after a slight rub with Maxey and EJ Montgomery this time around spacing the floor in the corners. As that’s happening, Quickley comes from the middle of the lane to make another catch beyond the 3-point line with his man coming to halt Hagans’ drive. Hagans’ man does a nice job trying to close out on Quickley’s shot after recognizing what was happening, but it didn’t matter.
The main takeaway from this isn’t just the similarities of the plays ran by the Cats. It’s the fact that, yes, even against bad competition, Kentucky executed offensively in crunch time. It’s been a problem in years past, even with some of Calipari’s more talented teams.
However, when you have three guards that are more than capable of initiating offensive sets and your lead guard has appeared to snap his minor funk he was in, you’re probably going to be in good shape with bigger games ahead.