Since my first attempt at breaking down the epic Carolina-Kentucky game ended up being nothing more than a “Defending Malik Monk” piece, I thought I’d take another crack at it. I think this will actually be a 3-part series: Part 3 will focus on Carolina’s transition defense, its late-game decision-making, and some other final thoughts on the UK game. Then, in the immortal words of Bill Belichick, it’ll be “on to Northern Iowa.”
Jackson and Berry:
- In addition to teaming up for a hyper-efficient 57 points on 32 FGAs, Jackson and Berry also combined for 10 of UNC’s 25 defensive rebounds, an A:TO of 10-to-3, and five (of the team’s six) FT assists (passes leading directly to shooting fouls). The Heels scored 100 points on 78 possessions (oRtg of 128.2) against Kentucky’s top-10 defense (still 6th in adjusted defensive efficiency, even after yesterday’s rough showing), largely due to how effectively the Jackson/Berry duo performed. Here’s a closer look at how they got their points.
- 4 3-pointers: 1.) an inside-out one (great cross-court pass from Bradley after a post entry from Berry); 2.) a secondary break pick-and-pop one while Jackson was playing small-ball 4 (one of Maye’s 3s also resulted from pick-and-pop action); 3.) a tough, step-back 3 off the dribble after curling off a screen; and 4.) coming off a screen in UNC’s “elevator doors” set to hit the huge 3 that gave the Heels a 98-95 lead
- 2-of-5 on floaters (he’s now 11-27, or 40.7%, on floaters this season), including his first lefty floater of the year
- 3-of-4 on close attempts, including as a cutter (for the key late-game “and-1”) and both off-the-dribble and receiving a pass in transition
- a turnaround jumper over Briscoe after backing him down off the dribble (looked like Harrison Barnes circa 2012 on this one)
- 10-of-15 from the line, drawing the fouls by a combination of attacking the hoop off the dribble and running the court in transition (plus a loose-ball foul he drew while corralling a defensive board)
- There were plenty of encouraging “alpha scorer” signs from Jackson in this one— most notably drawing the 15 FTAs, of course, many by just lowering his shoulder and bulling his way to the rim (he had a couple bad misses (with no fouls called) using this approach, too, but that’s an acceptable trade-off for getting this version of Justin Jackson). The back-down of Briscoe, plus the step-back 3-pointer off the bounce also stood out as big-time offensive moves.
- 3 3-pointers, all of which I’d classify as “vintage Berry”– 1.) a deep, contested dagger after a routine perimeter pass from Williams that cut UK’s largest lead (38-26) back down to single digits; 2.) with the shot clock winding down, Berry used a ball screen by Maye to hit a 3 off the bounce over Willis (after a switch) and cut the lead back down to 4 (74-70, answering a Monk transition 3); 3.) a top-of-the-key 3 off the dribble after UK switched a ball screen (again by Maye), putting Adebayo (who actually defended this well) on Berry; this one cut the Heels’ deficit to 93-91
- a floater
- a pair of FTs after attacking the front of the rim with reckless abandon
- 5-of-7 on close attempts, including his first two lefty finishes of the season; entering this game, Berry was just 10-of-19 in close attempts through his first nine games—he was clearly much more aggressive getting to the rim against UK (dare I say, nearly Lawson-esque in a couple cases?)
- He did miss his only two mid-range attempts of the game, but is still knocking down over half of his shots from 10-20′ this season (11-21).
- Berry, at his best, combines Felton’s quick-release, deep daggers off the dribble with Lawson’s physical, body-searching finishes in the paint. It’s too bad he missed his late-game drive, but there’s no question that he wants the ball in his hands in big possessions (or expiring shot clocks). Hard not to love this dude.
Ball Screen Defense:
- Kentucky ran 21 ball screens, virtually all of them for lightning-quick freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox. UK scored or drew fouls on 12 of them, while missing seven shots and resetting the offense twice following high-screen action.
- Despite Monk’s hot hand, Kentucky ran four straight ball screens at a key point in the game (right after Maye’s second 3 cut the UNC deficit to 84-80), scoring on each of them. In every case, UK ran its high screen as the very first movement in its offense (always within the first seven seconds of the clock)—always with the 4 (both Gabriel and Willis) setting the screen with Adebayo positioned on the weak-side block to await a lob pass. Briscoe and Monk were spread to the deep corners. Pretty basic stuff, but Calipari (who, regardless of how you feel about him as a recruiter/program figurehead, is a fantastic gameday coach, in my opinion) went back to it again and again down the stretch.
- At the 6:45 mark, Britt-Maye were engaged in the first of the aforementioned streak of ball screens. Britt was blown up by Gabriel’s pick, leaving Maye to try to keep Fox out of the paint. Although Fox missed the lay-up, Bradley’s help rotation freed Adebayo up for a follow dunk (that he almost blew after easily overpowering a rotating Jackson for the offensive board).
- After a wave of substitutions (Berry, Hicks, and Meeks back in), UK again ran a ball screen at the 6:20 mark—this time against the combo of Berry and Hicks. Like Maye on the previous screen, Hicks defended with a soft hedge designed to keep the ball-handler out of the paint. Fox’s hesitation dribble froze Hicks, however, allowing the cat-quick rookie to blow by for an easy lay-up before a late-rotating Meeks could arrive to contest.
- At 5:55, Kentucky went back to the well, again engaging Berry-Hicks in a ball screen. After two unsuccessful soft hedges, Carolina decided to switch this one. Hicks gave Fox a huge cushion, though, allowing him to knock down a clean elbow jumper.
- Finally, with 5:30 left in the game, Berry-Hicks were again tasked with defending a ball screen. This time, Hicks pressed up on the screener (Derek Willis, who had replaced Gabriel), ostensibly to prevent a pick-and-pop opportunity. With no one even threatening to slow Fox on this one, he easily blew into the paint and forced Meeks into an early (mid-paint) help situation. This set up the lob to Adebayo, which was thwarted only by a Meeks foul, his fourth of the game. Fox split a pair of free throws, a moral victory for UNC’s ball screen defense.
- On the next UK possession, perhaps recognizing that both Tar Heel bigs now had four fouls, the Wildcats ran a quick set to enter the ball to Adebayo on the left block (with Hicks switched on to him following Meeks’s foul on the last trip). He easily drop-stepped for a dunk against a tentative Hicks.
- After Meeks fouled out on UNC’s subsequent offensive possession, Kentucky went back to its quick-hitting high-screen action at the 4:10 mark. It necessitated another Berry-Hicks switch, with Isaiah doing a better job of with his defensive spacing. Fox, unable to blow by or create space for a mid-range jumper, settled for a contested floater in the paint (with good help from Bradley). After this stop, UK abandoned its ball-screen offense for the final four minutes, opting to go back to a refreshed Monk (who had been primarily hanging out in the corner) with some staggered screen/iso action.
- So what’s the take-home message from the above ball-screen failures? UNC did mix up its defense during this sequence, trying three different techniques (soft hedge, switch, and pressing up on the screener). It might have been nice to blitz Fox with a trap to force the ball out of his hands. But having Monk or Briscoe possibly attacking in a 4-on-3 is no recipe for great defensive results either. Even a quick zone possession might have helped, although that was certainly no panacea against UK. This is a clear example of where a healthy Theo Pinson would have been huge. The ability to go small (without needing to bring Britt or Robinson onto the court) with Pinson at the 4 would have enabled Carolina to easily switch all high screens and roll the dice with Theo on Fox.