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Coach John Calipari says 70 percent of Kentucky’s remaining practice time will focus on defense

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky likely won’t be spending the rest of the season working on offensive schemes. Most of the time spent in practice will be on the defensive end of the floor.

“We have a lot of weapons (and) we have a lot of playmakers,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Will we get better defensively? Will we continue to dive on the floor? Will we take pride in our defense? We worked, but we’re going to keep working on 3-point defense, 3-point shot defense. The emphasis that we’ll have for the rest of the year, 70 percent of what we do will be defensively.”

Vanderbilt guard Ezra Manjon (5) shoots the ball past Kentucky forward Zvonimir Ivisic (Photo by George Walker IV, AP, via Kentucky Today)

The Wildcats (16-6, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) ended a two-game losing streak with a 109-77 win at Vanderbilt earlier this week. Kentucky held the Commodores to less than 35 percent shooting from the floor after surrendering 197 points combined in losses to Florida and Tennessee, respectively.

Calipari said the team’s mission in moving forward will be stopping the opposition as opposed trying to outscoring opposing teams.

“I’m going to have to play different people. I really don’t care who you are and how many baskets you score because we’re not winning trying to just outscore people,” the Kentucky coach said. “We proved that the two games before. Georgia the first half, why isn’t that us? (when they gave up only 35 points) Because, well I choose not to be that. OK, then you’re going to choose to sit on the bench.”

He added the team’s mental approach against the Commodores also improved.

“One of the things I said was, ‘You’ve got to play like you have nothing to lose, because that’s every team playing us,’” Calipari said. “Every team that plays us. They play like they have nothing to lose. I said, ‘You’ve got to do the same.’”

In the win over Vanderbilt, the Wildcats were without D.J. Wagner (ankle) and Tre Mitchell (back) but got a big lift from Jordan Burks and Zvonimir Ivisic. Burks scored a career-high 13 points and Ivisic tallied 11 points and seven rebounds and a career-high 17 points from Justin Edwards.

According to Calipari, Ivisic hadn’t practiced for nearly two weeks and had a productive practice session on Monday.

“He was far behind because he wasn’t practicing. … his best practice (was Monday). Now he’s all excited,” Calipari said. “Yeah, that’s how this works. He’s a great kid and he’s a difference-maker. You can throw lobs to him. How about, he can throw a lob to you.”

Calipari also was pleased with the performance by Burks, who had missed four of the previous six games and played a combined three minutes against the Gators and Volunteers.

Road Support

Calipari wasn’t surprised by the number of Kentucky fans who attended the “road” game at Memorial Gym in Nashville Tuesday night. It was estimated at least 70 percent of the crowd was there to cheer on the Cats.

“Our fans, they’re unbelievable,” he said. “We walk in, it’s part of the reason I imagine we’ve had some success up here — we walk in and they’re, half the building is blue. They’re really into basketball and really into Kentucky — that’s amazing.”

Gametracker: Gonzaga at Kentucky, 4 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: CBS, UK Radio Network.

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