John Calipari has had a lot of good talent at Kentucky. But before this season, he said this may his best defensive team.
That was before the Wildcats gave up 100 points in Saturday's win over North Carolina, two weeks after giving up 97 in a loss to UCLA at Rupp Arena. Consequently, he has been forced to distance himself from the preseason projection.
"What was I smoking?" he joked when recalling the comment. "I also said that it's one of the fastest teams I've coached, and I was right about that. So I was one out of two."
There is no overlooking the Tar Heels' success on offense. They shot 53 percent overall, 52.9 percent from 3-point range (9 of 17). UNC's Justin Jackson scored 34 points and he created a mismatch for the Cats.
Kentucky had an issue finding a guy who could match Jackson's size and run with him, forcing Calipari to sacrifice one or the other when guarding him.
For a stretch, Calipari put Isaiah Briscoe on Jackson. Briscoe is sophomore with good defensive skills but also a 5-inch disadvantage (Jackson is 6-foot-8, Briscoe 6-3). UNC exploited that advantage on numerous occasions, as you can see over and over again in the first two minutes of the tape below. When there's a five-inch size difference, you drive to the hole and shoot over your defender. And that's exactly what happened.
Briscoe wasn't enough to match Justin Jackson's length -- so Calipari made the switch to put Derrick Willis on him. A guy who has better length at 6-9.
But that was just as bad, maybe worse.
"They switched off [Briscoe] and put, I think it was Willis on me," Jackson said. "I mean, he wasn't as mobile as Isaiah. So for me I just tried to get him some space and tried to make a play."
The chess match between Calipari and Roy Williams continued. Credit Jackson, who recognized what matchup he had and exploited it to have one of his best games for UNC.
"He knew, as soon as he saw Isaiah was on him, he said, okay, 'We'll take him inside,'" Calipari said of Jackson. "The minute I put one of those other guys on him, he took him outside, and Roy kept going back at him, just like I kept going at Malik (Monk). And that's what it became."
Overall, Kentucky's defense ranks seventh in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, allowing 92.2 points per 100 possessions. But issues have surfaced against UCLA and against UNC.
"What's happened to us is people are exploiting individual players on my team," Calipari said. "We've got to figure it out as a staff."