January 18, 2014
When Tennessee started focusing on Julius Randle, Kentucky went to another freshman.
He responded with his best game of the season, scoring 26 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 10-for-10 free throw shooting.
A big part of UK's second-half surge was an offense that used a substantial amount of pick-and-roll with Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson. In the second half, UK ended a possession directly off pick-and-rolls from those two five times; the Cats scored on each of them, netting a total of 11 points.
"We've been working really hard on pick‑and‑roll stuff for him," Calipari said, "and trying to teach him the pace of the game and how fast you have to go off the screen, how you have to set your man up ‑‑ how you have to attack the big man."
Let's check out a couple examples:
Play One: Harrison drives by big man for contested layup.
Play Two: Harrison drives into traffic and makes contested layup.
Play Three: Harrison crosses up big man, makes pull-up jumper.
"You go and attack the (center)," Calipari said he instructed Harrison.
One of the keys to Harrison's success: Dakari Johnson's screens. He's got a huge frame and uses it well, establishing a wide base. Tennessee's guards got snared in his picks throughout the second half, allowing Harrison to be matched up one-on-one with a less-mobile center.
"I felt like in the pick-and-roll I could get to the middle and beat the big guy off the dribble," Harrison said, "and maybe get to the lane and find the open man."
That happened here, with Harrison and Dakari sucking in an extra perimeter defender. James Young smartly rotated up from the corner for extra space and got a clean 3-point look.
Something to watch going forward is how often Kentucky utilizes the pick-and-roll with Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein, who doesn't appear to be as adept at setting effective screens as Johnson. Part of that is the simply physicality of Johnson, but the sophomore's technique is also lackluster. Watch here as he moves to set a screen but really just stands behind Harrison's defender.
Or here. The key moment is the frame where Harrison tries to go right, reverses course because a proper pick hasn't been set, and comes left. That's an optimal situation for Cauley-Stein because he's already stationed directly in the path of Harrison's defender. However, you can see Tennessee's guard easily skirt underneath his pick. Harrison has none of the separation and space that he got in all four instances with Johnson.
I like the increased use of the pick-and-roll to get Harrison going. He's not beating his man off the dribble as easily as we thought he might be able to; using a screen is a good way to get him in a mismatch or, at the very least, momentum as he heads toward the basket.
He's got good ball security while dribbling in traffic, and he's improving as a decision-maker. He still has some wild shot-taking in him -- I remember him flinging quite a few off the backboard at Vanderbilt -- but the more he feels things out, the better he will get. And if Calipari wants, he can get creative with off-ball action, whether it's Young coming off weak-side screens or finding better ways to set up lobs from Cauley-Stein, if he's the screener.
Whether UK can continue to have this kind of success moving forward will be something to keep an eye on, for sure.