While this Old Dominion squad lost a lot from a year ago, they still know how to win. Heck, they’ve won 54 games in the last two seasons and made the NCAA Tournament in four of the last seven year. Blaine Taylor is a heck of a basketball coach.
This game played out a lot like I thought it would. Old Dominion, a fundamentally sound squad, forced UK to be patient on offense and because of that the Wildcats struggled at times. But, after being outrebounded early, the Wildcats used their length and athleticism to eventually outrebound the Monarchs by ten and pull out a ten point victory.
In the first half UK looked out of sync. Old Dominion mixed up their 1-2-2 and 2-3 match-up zones and the young Wildcats didn’t know how to react. They had 12 turnovers in the first half and Marquis Teague again looked a bit out of control as he had five first half turnovers by himself.
This is how fundamentally sound basketball teams are going to guard Kentucky and they are going to face teams that will guard them like this with a lot more talent. So, they definitely need to improve. They need to learn how to attack the zone, which is different that forcing splits and trying to get into the lane. Move the basketball around the perimeter and the gaps in the zone will open. They also need to look inside more against the zone. I know they don’t have the prototypical post guy, but Terrence Jones has the ability to play on the low block. Get him the ball down there and even if he doesn’t score, simply penetrating the zone will open up shots and penetrating lanes.
You have to be patient and as a result you will get better shots.
Stepping up and making plays against the zone was Darius Miller, who finished with 13 points and five assists off of the bench. The key stat is the five assists. Miller is experienced and knows how to penetrate the gaps in the zone. He knows how to collapse the zone. And while the other four guys were standing around, Miller was getting the ball in the right spots and making plays.
Speaking of Jones, I know he only had six points, but I was extremely impressed with his play on the other end of the court. Defensively, he really stepped up his game and helped slow down Chris Cooper, who finished with 17 and 12 rebounds. He really bodied up Cooper and did not allow him to get into position late in the game. This was huge because prior Cooper really had his way with the Wildcats.
At halftime when Kentucky led by five after really struggling through the first 20 minutes, former Wake Forest head coach Dino Guadio said it best. He talked about how well ODU had played and how much UK had struggled, but then mentioned they still went to the break with a lead. He said this could happen a lot this season. And he’s right.
But, much more talented teams are going to guard the Wildcats like this and they are going to need somebody other than Darius Miller to act like they have seen a zone before. Kentucky’s talent, length and athleticism will take them a long way. But, they will need to become a more fundamentally sound basketball team in the halfcourt to bring home No. 8.