Kentucky cannot make unforced turnovers at Arkansas

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and other Cats cannot make unforced turnovers against Arkansas’ defense. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

John Calipari knows Kentucky is going to turn the ball over against Arkansas’ pressure defense Tuesday night. Every team does.

What Kentucky can’t do, though, is make unforced turnovers that lead to easy Arkansas score.

“They are going to force some turnovers and they’ll force you into bad situations because they are really good at, but you can’t have unforced turnovers. You can’t have guys just driving in and losing the ball and saying, ‘My fault!’ You can’t have plays that are not forced because they are going to force turnovers,” Calipari said Monday.

“You know, against Alabama we only had 13 turnovers but nine of them were between two guys (Wenyen Gabriel and P.J. Washington) and most of them not forced. When we played West Virginia we had six unforced turnovers in the first half. Well, you can’t play West Virginia (that way). That’s why you are down 14 at the half. You can’t play them that way because they are going to force turnovers, and Arkansas will do the same.”

Assistant coach Joel Justus said protecting against unforced turnovers is UK’s No. 1 priority in this game.

“You can’t have live ball turnovers, you can’t have unforced turnovers where you don’t have an opportunity to set your defense. That is a big part for us in any game. When we have a chance to set our defense, use our length, use our athleticism, we are much better than if we turn the ball over and we are playing at a disadvantage and we allow that team to tilt the court and run downhill at you and you’re going uphill,” Justus said.

“So its something that is going to be very important for us to take care of the basketball early in the possession and also make sure we get as many quality shots as possible.”

Arkansas plays at a hectic pace that can force players into bad decisions if they get too fast. That has been a problem for UK at times this year.

“When they play at home, they play with a great pace. They play with a fever on defense. They’re a team that really tries to get after you and put pressure on you on both offense and defense. So we have to first be ready for transition,” Justus said. “I think that’s always something that’s important down there. And then you’ve got to be alert, and that’s something that, especially our guards, are not always alert off the ball. We’ve got to be ready to play for the entire shot clock.”

Calipari found out on the SEC coaches teleconference that even though Arkansas starts four seniors, there’s not a player on the roster who has a win over UK. That obviously will intensify the atmosphere — but that is standard operating procedure for UK on the road.

“It’s about like every other team we play – on the road and they’re all sold out. They’re all big games and, ‘This is it, we’ve gotta win this game.’ I would expect them to play and get after it,” Calipari said. “It’s going to be a hard one.

“Again, they’re starting four seniors, we’re starting five freshmen. It’s a hard game for us, but it’s another chance to learn and grow and see where we are. Competitive fight. You know, playing teams that understand what it takes. And like I said, they’re playing as well as they’ve played these last four to five games.”

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