February 10, 2013
In a game bereft of beautiful plays, this was a standout example of just that: A sweet pass-pass-pass combination from Mays-Noel-Poythress that led to a Cauley-Stein dunk (and a foul).
It was Poythress' behind-the-back feed that drew the attention, but the development was just as crucial in putting him in position to make it. In this edition of Inside the Play, we look at what was the aesthetic play of the game.
We pick things up with UK setting up its halfcourt set. The players: Ryan Harrow, handling the ball; Nerlens Noel, setting the screen; Julius Mays, waiting on the bottom wing; Alex Poythress, on the top wing; and Willie Cauley-Stein, on the baseline.
The first action is a high screen between Harrow and Noel. Auburn doesn't hedge on Harrow, instead choosing to keep UK's players in front of them. Because of that, the pick-and-roll won't result in anything direct. In the screens below, Harrow will opt against trying to drive, and a pass to a rolling Noel is cut off.
Auburn's zone starts to get out of sync here, as Harrow picks up his dribble at the top of the key -- and three defenders on him. Poythress has slipped into the paint, and Noel is still rolling. Harrow doesn't have an angle to any of them, but the Tigers' out-of-order zone will come into play. As for now, Harrow's only option is to pass to Mays on the wing (below).
Mays catches the pass and immediately sends it in to Noel on the block. Auburn's zone now has three players high and two players low, and you can see that the interior will be exposed if UK can make the right cuts. In the screen below, we'll see Auburn send a double-team at Noel to force the ball out of his hand -- and, hopefully, create a turnover, which Noel had done a few times against double-teams in this game.
Noel, however, rises up with the ball and finds a cutting Poythress, who's slicing right between the defenders on Harrow (outside the 3-point line) and Cauley-Stein (still on the baseline).
And here's Poythress' smooth pass. He caught the ball on his right hip, and in one smooth, swift motion, tossed it behind his back as Cauley-Stein's man left him to guard Poythress. It was a move based on "instincts," Noel said. "In practice, if you mess that up, coach Cal will get on you. We don't really try that too much."
Cauley-Stein catches the pass and rises up for a dunk, finishing through the foul and converting the three-point play seconds later.
"I was not ready for it," Cauley-Stein said. "I thought he was losing the ball. When he came around, I thought he muffed it. I thought, 'Oh no.' … It was a beautiful pass, though."
Indeed it was, but it was also set up because UK was able to create confusion for Auburn with a high screen and then exploit it with the proper passes, cuts and reads.