By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari’s best teams have normally had a rim protector, a player that could block and challenge shots anywhere near the rim.
This year’s team doesn’t have that — except the brief times Nick Richards plays well. So does that make deflections and steals like those Ashton Hagans provides — 19 in the last four games — that much more important going into Saturday night’s home game with Vanderbilt.
“I think Coach would say that defense starts with the point guard,” Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said Friday. “I think if you have a guy that can get after the point guard and make him nervous, make him turn his back, turn his shoulders, now they’re not running offense at a quick pace. They’re not getting what they want, when they want, where they want it.
“That’s something that we’ve worked on with our wings with guys like Keldon (Johnson) and guys like Tyler (Herro), of making catches difficult. Now you’ve got a guy on the ball that’s being disruptive, now you’ve got guys generally in the areas where the first pass is being entered, making it difficult. And so you’re going get deflections there and so teams are running their offense farther away from the basket, where there’s more time to react, there’s more closing time when you don’t have maybe the best rim protection that we’ve had in the past.”
However, that doesn’t mean rim protection is not important.
“I think our rim protection is getting better and I think that’s why Cal keeps talking about Nick Richards being an important part of this team and the development as we move forward,” Justus said. “I think EJ (Montgomery) is in that same boat. He has a little bit more of a knack for blocking shots, a little bit more of a thirst to do so.
“So like I said, as we take the floor today and ultimately compete tomorrow, you want to see guys doing that, and that starts with Ashton being disruptive.”