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Calipari not worried about facing zone

But maybe he should be.

After the Tennessee Volunteers upset No. 2 Kentucky Saturday, the common consensus was that Bruce Pearl had hit on an effective way to slow the Wildcats down. The game plan is simple: Walk the ball up the floor, take good shots where possible (thanks to Wayne Chism's desire to fire the ball at the rim-shaped apparatus so indiscriminately, this part of the plan wasn't on point), get back on defense to prevent transition, and sink into a saggy, help-heavy zone in the half court. Though it's not nearly as bad as some of Calipari's former Memphis teams, this year's Kentucky team only shoots 34.1 percent from three; much of its offense comes from penetration and the offensive rebounding of DeMarcus Cousins.

In other words, according to the parameters of standard basketball strategy, Pearl's strategy makes sense. A zone is the play. And the Vols have the win to show for it.

This may not surprise you, but John Calipari does not agree:

"It's funny, because everybody has the 'This is how you play them.' Yeah, you hold your nose and close your eyes and hope we can't make any shots. Yeah, that's a good way to play. If we make shots -- if we go 5-for-22, which stinks -- we win going away."

This is a fair point, I guess. But part of the reason Kentucky shot 2-of-22 -- which is unusually bad, obviously -- is because they're not a great three-point shooting team. Let's clarify. Kentucky is a great team. But like any of this year's great teams, they have slight blemishes, areas in which they're not as impressive as others. When you play great teams, you have to force them to rely on skills at which they are merely good. Or in the case of Kentucky's three-pointing shooting, average. For better or worse, this is what a zone does. Whether those shots are falling or not is beside the point; the idea is merely to make Kentucky shoot. Which Tennesseee did.

That's what Tennessee did to Kentucky, both in Saturday's win and in Tennessee's tight performance at Rupp Arena on Feb. 13. And it's what other teams will do to UK, too. Fortunately for the Cats, their defensive efficiency is approaching typically high John Calipari-at-Memphis levels, meaning they're built to survive off-nights from behind the arc. But if the Wildcats are forced to rely on their three-point shooting -- if they let tournament teams push them away from the penetrating, dominating inside game that's made them so effective -- they'll have similar struggles in March. Calipari should worry about that.