Three things from the Kentucky basketball media opportunity on Monday, previewing Tuesday’s 9 p.m. game against visiting Vanderbilt.
1. A lot of Monday’s talk was by and about Derek Willis, the 6-foot-9 sophomore forward. Since Alex Poythress was lost for the season to an ACL injury, there was speculation that Willis might fill Poythress’s spot in John Calipari’s platoon system.
That didn’t happen. Willis has played just seven minutes in SEC games, with five of those coming during the 70-48 blowout of Alabama on Saturday, which was preceded by two minutes against Missouri last Tuesday.
At Monday’s media opp, Willis admitted that he had “fallen out” with the game and needed to “refocus” and take the advice of coaches, teammates and family and “get back in the gym.”
Willis said he was a “little tense” in the Alabama game and was trying to “do a million different things” which he thought affected his performance. He missed two shots and committed two turnovers.
Head coach John Calipari was out recruiting, so assistant John Robic talked to the media and promised that the coaching staff has not given up on Willis.
2. After saying they wanted to get back to playing great defense, the Cats did exactly that last week. So what changed?
Robic said the team’s ball pressure was better against Missouri and Alabama. He also said the team did a much better job on transition defense, identifying the ball early. He also said much of it was a mindset that the Cats wanted to get back to being a great defensive team.
True, Alabama shot 44.4 percent, only the third team to shoot 40 percent or better against UK this season. But the Cats held the Tide to just 17 points in the first half. Most of Bama’s offensive production came after the game was decided.
3. Vanderbilt has lost three straight. After a win over Auburn in their conference opener, the Commodores have lost at Arkansas (82-70), at home to Georgia (70-67) and on the road at Mississippi State (57-54).
In fact, Mississippi State snapped a 16-game regular-season conference losing streak, and Commodores coach Kevin Stallings admitted Monday that his young freshmen might have hit the wall.
Vandy is a young team. Shelton Mitchell, Wade Baldwin IV, Matthew Fiser-Davis, Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance are all freshmen who get significant minutes.
LaChance is second on the team in scoring at 13.3 points a game. Baldwin is averagng 6.9. Fisher-Davis is averaging 6.1 points.