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Ball movement is the way to beat Kentucky's shot blocking



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Kentucky forward Derek Willis blocks the shot of Stoney Brook forward Rayshaun McGrew during the NCAA Tournament game Thursday at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Haley Ward and Haley Ward Buy Photos

DES MOINES, Iowa — IU saw what happened to Stony Brook on Thursday night, when Kentucky set a record for blocked shots in an NCAA Tournament game.

So the Hoosiers know what they’re going up against Saturday night when they play the Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

At this point, there aren’t many people left who don't know about Kentucky’s ability to protect the rim.

“If you’re not aware in this country right now that they block shots, you’re not watching basketball,” junior forward Collin Hartman said. “Last night obviously they set the record so you just have to be in attack mode and be conscious they are coming to block shots.”

IU has played teams that excel in blocking shots, like when it beat Purdue 77-73 on Feb. 20, and teams with length like when it beat Chattanooga 99-74 on Thursday. So the Hoosiers have a general idea how to attack a team like Kentucky.

Just because the Wildcats can block shots doesn’t mean the Hoosiers are just going to play on the perimeter. That would be letting Kentucky’s shot-blocking win. If anything, IU has to attack Kentucky inside.

“We’ve played athletic teams all year but we just have to be aggressive,” Hartman said. “We can’t be tentative because that’s when those athletic teams and those long, lanky teams are able to get up into you and turn you over.”

The change in the game plan comes in how IU attacks. Like most other things, Hartman said it starts with getting stops on defense. If IU can get out in transition before Kentucky is set, there’s less chance of a shot being blocked or altered.

But the real adjustments come in the half court offense. Senior forward Max Bielfeldt said some of it is common sense, like not having freshman guard Harrison Niego drive into the teeth of the Wildcat defense.

Sophomore guard Robert Johnson said it’s about keeping things simple, not doing too much and just being aware of where the shot blockers are for Kentucky.

But most everyone said the key to attacking Kentucky comes down to movement.

“You've gotta move the ball, wear 'em down a little bit, try and get those bigs out, penetrate the ball into the lane, kick it out and just find a way,” senior guard Yogi Ferrell said. “You especially can't go in there and drive in on those bigs.”

The way to wear the bigs out and open up lanes to drive through, Hartman said, is through ball reversals.

The more the ball is reversed, the more the defense loses its shape and rotation. This means those shot blockers you can’t drive at suddenly are out of position.

“If you keep the ball moving a lot of teams break down after you get a couple reversals and they get away from their details of their defense,” Hartman said. “Everything breaks down and then you’re able to attack those gaps that weren’t initially there.”

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