Calipari, Wildcats looking to shore up defense

Published Nov. 21, 2009 1:00 a.m. ET

After watching Sam Houston State's Corey Allmond put on the best 3-point shooting performance in the history of Rupp Arena, Kentucky coach John Calipari figured it was time to appeal to a higher power. "I just called the (NCAA) rules committee and asked them to move the (3-point) line back," Calipari said. Given the way the fourth-ranked Wildcats guarded - or didn't guard - Allmond or the rest of the Bearkats in a harder than expected 102-92 win on Thursday, it might not have mattered. Sam Houston State sank 18 3-pointers against Kentucky to keep things interesting late into the second half. The performance that came three days after Miami (Ohio) poured in 15 from behind the arc against the Wildcats - who escaped on a last-second shot by freshman guard John Wall. Calipari originally chalked the Miami game as just one of those nights. After watching his team seem to shrug its shoulders on defense against Sam Houston State, he realized he has a problem. A big one. "We stopped playing as much as any team I've ever coached," Calipari said. "We just stopped." No matter how many timeouts Calipari called, how hard he stomped on the floor, no matter who he brought in off the bench, the Wildcats seemed to be innocent bystanders as the Bearkats fired away. "We had no sense of urgency defensively," Calipari said. "There was absolutely no communication on the court, which makes it hard." If Kentucky (3-0) can't find a way to shore up its defensive woes on Saturday against Rider (2-1), things could get even harder. The Broncs are shooting 49 percent from 3-point range this season and have already won on the road at Mississippi State. It's not the best combination for the Wildcats, who are allowing opponents to shoot 42 percent from behind the arc. "We're not doing like we're supposed to," said Wall. "(Calipari)" said he's always had a great defensive team, probably the tops in the country and he said we are his worst team right now. Until everybody wants to take pride in it and play defense, there's going to be struggles." Wall got a firsthand taste against the Bearkats. He found himself matched up several times against Allmond, not that it seemed to bother Allmond, who wasn't in awe of the player considered the top freshman in the country. Allmond made several 3-pointers with a hand in his face, including a double-pump leaner with Wall draped all over him. "He was on fire," Wall said. It's a humbling lesson Calipari hopes will teach his talented but inexperienced team that their days of lighting it up in AAU are over. The Wildcats clearly are not at that point yet. "They are playing how they played AAU ball six months ago," Calipari said. "It doesn't matter what the score is, they get numbers in the last three minutes. They say, 'I'm getting mine, this game is over. I'm getting a few more baskets.' You can't do that now." Good defensive teams, however, take time to build. Calipari is quick to point out that the nine players who saw the floor against the Bearkats included five freshmen and a sophomore. And there were bright spots. Freshman center DeMarcus Cousins had 27 points and 18 rebounds and played with the kind of consistent effort he never needed while dominating in high school, where defense was never a priority. "It is hard," said freshman center DeMarcus Cousins. "When you come out of high school and you're one of the top players, you have a lot of bad habits." Kentucky will have to start breaking them quickly. A trip to Cancun next week and a matchup with either Virginia or Stanford looms. The Wildcats have enough firepower to overcome their defensive lapses against smaller teams. That won't be the case in Mexico. "We've got to learn to stop people," Wall said. "Until we start doing that, it's going to be tough in a lot of games."