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After UK beat Central Michigan 85-57 Monday, John Calipari mentioned freshman wing Bryce Hopkins as a possible option.
“Do we have another guy that can give us a post presence on this team?” the UK coach said. “Is it Bryce? Is he the guy? He’s pretty physical now. Throw it to him and let him back a guy under it.”
More than once, Calipari has spoken of Hopkins having a physical presence. UK lists the freshman at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds. Only Tshiebwe (255 pounds) and Lance Ware (225 pounds) are listed as weighing more, and Ware is noticeably more slender being 3 inches taller than Hopkins.
On his radio show Tuesday night, Calipari again spoke of Hopkins as a postman option.
“Maybe we put him as a ‘3-man’ against their ‘3,’” the UK coach said. “How many ‘3s’ in the country are big enough to guard him when we throw him in the post? . . .
“I think he may be our second-best post-up player.”
Although he spoke of being a relative novice at playing the post, Hopkins sounded willing to try to fill that role.
“I haven’t done a lot of post play,” he said after Monday’s game. “But Coach (Calipari) does have me with the guards and the ‘bigs’ in practice. . . . So I’m working on it. My physicality is one thing he likes about me. I just love to bring that in a game when he needs it.”
Hopkins, who is averaging 4.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 11.4 minutes this season, spoke of the approach he would want to take when playing the post.
On defense, he would not want to concede positioning.
“Playing a bigger guy in the post, don’t let him get that block,” Hopkins said. “So, he’s not as comfortable when he catches it out, like, in the 15-foot area. So, I feel if I just do that and be more physical and bump him off his space, it’ll be better for me.”
On the offensive end, Hopkins saw himself making adjustments based on the size of the defender.
“I just take what’s there for me,” he said Monday. “If I have a bigger guy on me on the perimeter, I can take him off the dribble and get to the paint. I feel I showed that tonight.
“And if I have a smaller guy on me, I can take him to the post and get a bucket.”
Before games, associate coach Orlando Antigua can be seen working with Kentucky’s “bigs” on post play. Those drills, which include moves on each low block, have included Daimion Collins, Ware and Tshiebwe as well as Hopkins.
A week earlier, Antigua said scoring from the low post was “huge” in terms of being an offensive option in games where Kentucky is not making perimeter shots.
Kentucky has scoring options other than the classic back-to-the-basket post-ups. In its current six-game winning streak, UK has outscored each opponent in the paint. The average margin in Kentucky’s favor was 40.3-22.7.
Although Duke outscored Kentucky 48-38 in the paint, UK’s overall average advantage is 40.0-26.3.
After his team was outscored 36-26 in the paint, Central Michigan Coach Tony Barbee spoke of Kentucky’s ability to get points in the paint.
“Two things you can’t do against Kentucky is give them transition baskets and second-chance points off the glass,” he said.
Kentucky outscored Central Michigan 18-6 in second-chance points and 20-4 on fast breaks.
With better competition coming, Kentucky figures to look to Hopkins and others to make traditional low-post scoring a viable option.
That will include Tshiebwe. On the radio show, Calipari saluted Tshiebwe’s face-the-basket shooting and free-throw accuracy (17-of-24). UK coaches have repeatedly noted the need to draw more fouls and shoot more free throws. Through seven games, Kentucky is averaging only about two more free throw attempts than opponents (14.1-12.0).
Of Tshiebwe’s further development, Calipari said, “Now, he’s got to have a little more game around the goal.”
Southern at No. 9 Kentucky
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
TV: SEC Network