By LARRY VAUGHT
LAS VEGAS — Late in Wednesday’s 69-66 win over Kentucky, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had his team go into a zone defense.
He had seen others teams do that against Kentucky, including Georgia Tech last week that played nothing bu zone.
“We knew we could not play zone the whole game but I thought it threw them a little bit of a curve ball,” the Utah coach said. “To this point, I think it’s fair to say perimeter shooting has not been their strength.”
Kentucky was 2-for-17 from 3-point range against Utah, including two misses in the final 10 seconds by Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley that could have forced overtime.
For the season, Kentucky is 41 of 161 — 25.5 percent — from 3-point range. Kentucky opponents are hitting 32 percent (72 of 225). Quickley is UK’s best percentage shooter (.333) and also has the most makes (10). Maxey has dropped to 22.9 percent and only has eight treys in nine games. Ashton Hagans has made seven treys and is hitting 31.8 percent — probably a higher mark than most expected.
Still, Krystkowiak admitted Utah was having trouble defending Hagans in the pick-and-roll. He said the zone was not to “dare” UK to take 3-pointers even though his players said that was the exact plan. However, he wanted the zone to keep UK out of the paint and see if the Cats could hit from long range — which they could not.
“We’ve had these issues. This is who we are sometimes,” Calipari said after the game about his team’s 3-point shooting. “There are games when we shoot the 3 good and when we don’t, we’re 2-for-17. We need to make six of seven 3’s a game. But you can’t go 1-for-12, 2-for-15. We’ve had guys miss nine in a row who are good shooters.
“We had 17, all good looks, and probably five of them were air balls. I don’t have the answer, I wish I did. I believe we have good shooters. They may be timid right now. I mean, pulling up and not close to the rim. What’s in your mind? We’ve got to fix some of that.”
Hagans, who was 0-for-4 from 3 against Utah, said the team had open shots but just missed them.
“We just have to keep getting in the gym and keeping shooting shots. Quick missed some big shots and he’s one of our best shooters. Tyrese did. I did.”
Everybody did and that was a problem. However, Calipari did like that Quickley, who finished the game 0-for-4 from 3, asked to take the last shot to try and force overtime.
“At the last timeout, Immanuel said, ‘Get it for me,’” Calipari said. “He missed it, but what I’m happy about is that he wanted it. That’s the first step. You cannot be afraid to miss the game-winner.
“Now you come back to me the next game with three seconds left in the game and you say, ‘Get me the last shot.’”
Hagans was glad Quickley wanted to take the shot even if he missed.
“He is in the gym every day. He is knocking down big shots for us every game,” Hagans said. “He missed some big shots but he wanted it. We went to him and he almost hit it.”