To ask Keldon Johnson about why Kentucky Coach John Calipari is experimenting with a lineup of three big men is to bring a wide smile to the freshman’s face.
“I can’t really tell you what Coach Cal is thinking,” Johnson said with a smile Thursday. “I trust him. If that’s something he wants to do, then I’m behind him 110 percent.”
Johnson saw the wisdom of Kentucky playing three “bigs,” perhaps even taking another look at the ceiling-scraping front line in Friday’s final exhibition tune-up against Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
“It’s punk basketball,” Johnson said. “Just beat ‘em down inside.”
Of course, the early experiments of playing a front line of Nick Richards (6-foot-11), Reid Travis (6-8) and PJ Washington (6-8) meant that one or more of the “bigs” had to defend a smaller, quicker opponent on the perimeter.
“I don’t think that’s something to worry about,” he said in that James Earl Jones bass voice of his. “They teach us to guard multiple positions. We’ve been working on it in practice.”
Working on it quite a bit, said assistant coach Joel Justus, who substituted for Calipari at Thursday’s news conference. He said UK counted 26 times in the first exhibition a week ago that Transylvania players drove to the rim.
“It was a bit of a challenge,” Justus said. “Not only for the big lineup, but for ‘one’ through ‘five.’ That was something that was addressed not only at halftime, (but also) after the game and, in all transparency, it’s been addressed every single day since last Friday.”
Justus suggested that the first competition against an opposing team might have had something to do with Transy’s success in driving to the rim. As evidence, he cited what he said was 21 such drives by the Bahamas Select Team in UK’s opener of the August exhibitions.
“Maybe that had something to do with it,” Justus said. “I don’t know. It was the first time you’re playing somebody new. . . . And we corrected that by the time we played (the second exhibition in the Bahamas).”
When asked about Kentucky’s defense against Transy, Richards said with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm, “it was decent.”
Too many drives to the basket, he said. Too many second-chance points, he added, even though Transy only had four offensive rebounds.
“They really shouldn’t have gotten any second-chance points,” Richards said.
Johnson said he could not explain why Transy drove effectively against Kentucky.
“That’s definitely on us,” he said. “That’s our fault. It’s not Coach Cal’s fault. It’s nothing Transy did special.”
But Johnson did not try to downplay the importance of keeping opponents away from the basket area, away from the lane and a stranger to their side of the scoreboard.
“That’s very important,” he said. “Straight-line drives, that comes with uncontested threes (from passes created by penetration). I think we know as a team (because) we looked at film that we can’t have mistakes like that. And we can’t have it happen in games whether it’s Transy or any other team we play this year.”
Indiana-Pennsylvania at Kentucky
What: UK’s final preseason exhibition game
When: 7 p.m.
TV: SEC Network