UConn’s perimeter defense proved to be too much for Harrison twins
ARLINGTON, Texas -- After struggling to find the consistency expected of them when they arrived on campus in August, Kentucky freshman guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison hit their stride in postseason play. With Aaron becoming the team’s key shot taker (and maker) and Andrew doing a better job as the primary distributor, the Wildcats won seven of eight games ahead of Monday’s national title game.
But against a “hungry” pack of Huskies that run of stellar play came to an end, with both struggling in the Wildcats’ 60-54 loss.
Aaron scored seven points, shooting 3-for-7 from the field and Andrew made just three of his nine field goal attempts. Just as big of an issue for the tandem was ball control against UConn’s smaller guards, with Andrew accounting for five assists and four turnovers and Aaron committing three turnovers without an assist.
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After having success shaking off opposing guards throughout the tournament, Kentucky’s 6-foot-6 backcourt duo didn’t enjoy the same amount of success on the game’s biggest stage. And part of the issue was the fact that neither was as aggressive in attacking the defense as they were in earlier tournament games.
“One of our things was sprint it up the court so you attack [Boatright] and he’s not attacking you. We jogged,” Calipari said in regards to his strategy for dealing with Boatright’s perimeter defense. “Let somebody else bring it up and when you catch it, come to a triple-threat [position] because now your size matters. He can’t come up into you now. If you’re dribbling, he can.”
Without the room needed to operate neither was as effective as they would have hoped for on the offensive end, and they also struggled defensively. UConn was able to use its perimeter speed to build up a 15-point first half lead, and as a result Calipari made the decision with just under six minutes remaining in the first half to go zone.
The foul trouble incurred by Boatright and DeAndre Daniels certainly impacted Kentucky’s decision to make the strategic move, but there were also issues for the Wildcats in defending man-to-man that needed to be addressed before the game got out of hand. Calipari made the move and it was an effective one, pulling Kentucky to within four points at the intermission.
“We had to play zone,” Calipari said. “Tried to get [UConn’s] sweat to dry a little bit, make them less aggressive and it worked and these guys performed. They came back, ‘let’s play zone, coach.’”
They’d call on the defense at various points in the second half, but UConn was able to do a better job of finding and making the timely shots needed to hang on for the win. Unfortunately for Kentucky, they weren’t able to do the same when faced with critical offensive possessions down the stretch.
James Young was highly productive as the third guard, scoring 20 points and grabbing seven rebounds to lead the Kentucky scoring effort. However at a certain point Kentucky needed the two guards who had been such an instrumental factor in their run to the national title game, but thanks to UConn’s perimeter defense the Harrisons were unable to get untracked.
UConn took away the ball screens that so often led to finishes at the basket throughout Kentucky’s tournament run, either for themselves or their teammates, and that proved to be too much to overcome.