Liggins is Kentucky's man on defense
There have been some great nicknames given to the better defensive players over the years.
Gary Payton was known as ''The Glove.'' Others have had handles such as ''The Sheriff,'' ''The Secretary of Defense'' or ''Man of Steal.''
DeAndre Liggins doesn't have one of those catchy titles. He's just known as Kentucky's best defender.
''You have a 6-6 player with long arms who can guard a point guard, a 2-man, a 3-man, and if I wanted him to, he could probably guard the 4,'' Kentucky coach John Calipari said Friday. ''Whoever is hurting you, he can go guard.''
On Saturday, in the national semifinals, you can expect Liggins will be assigned to try and stop Connecticut All-America Kemba Walker, who has been on an incredible tear during the Huskies' run through the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
''The thing with me is taking on the challenge, being competitive, having confidence that I can stop the other guy,'' Liggins said.
The junior from Chicago has a long list of players he has shut down this season.
In the Southeastern Conference he held Chris Warren, Mississippi's leading scorer, to one first-half field goal; he limited Vanderbilt's John Jenkins to three points, all in the first half, and no field goals; and he held Bruce Ellington, South Carolina's point guard and leading scorer, to eight points.
He did it out of conference as well, holding Jared Stohl of Portland, the nation's top 3-point shooter, to a 1-for-7 effort from beyond the arc. And in the regional semifinal win over No. 1 Ohio State he took 3-point specialist Jon Diebler out of the offense for most of the second half.
There was one player, however, who got the best of Liggins and Kentucky this season - Walker.
The 6-foot-1 junior had 29 points in the Huskies' 84-67 victory in the championship game of the Maui Invitational. He was 10 of 17 from the field, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range and had six assists.
''Kemba Walker killed us. He was great offensively,'' Liggins said of the November matchup. ''We just played bad that game. We want to come out and play better Saturday.
''I have totally great respect for Kemba Walker. He is a good player. It is going to be a challenge for me. I have to be up to it and make him work for every shot.''
Walker has seen almost every kind of defense imaginable this season. Zones, matchup zones, double-teaming, bigger defenders, quicker defenders. He has beaten them all, averaging 23.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
His numbers in the nine-game postseason run for the Huskies have been even better - 26.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists.
''I faced a lot of different defenders. I faced guys just like him,'' Walker said. ''He's one of the better defenders because he's extremely active, and he has a height mismatch over me.
''I know it's going to be a difficult, tough night for me. But I'm just counting on my teammates to give me the ball in the right situations and set some great screens.''
Jim Calhoun has had some pretty good defenders in his 25 seasons at Connecticut. He knows what a player such as Liggins can mean to a team.
''A great thing about him is he's become kind of known as that. He feels that he can really stop you,'' he said. ''One of the ways to stop a guy is feeling like you can stop them, not being overwhelmed even before you face the challenge. He's terrific. He's absolutely terrific.''
Calhoun smiled as he ended his thought.
''He's going to give whoever he plays a difficult time,'' he said, obviously referring to Walker.
Liggins knows he can't shut down Walker, but he'll give it a shot.
''It is all mental. It is all a mental approach to try to stop that person,'' he said. ''There are players like Walker. You can't stop players like that. You just have to do your best on them. If he makes a shot over you, then you have to live with that. He is going to make shots over me Saturday. He is going to make some crazy shots, but I have to keep playing. I can't get frustrated. I have to keep playing.''