Length and defense will help Wildcats 'win a lot of games'

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky freshman Cam’Ron Fletcher already knows what John Calipari envisions for the Wildcats this season.

“(He wants us to be) a good defensive team,” Fletcher said. “That is what Coach Cal is on us most about, defense. He knows we have a lot of good offensive players, but with our defense, we can win games for real. He loves defense.”

The Kentucky coach got a glimpse of how good his team could be defensively during a season-opening 81-45 win over Morehead State Wednesday night.

The Eagles shot just 34 percent from the field and made just three shots from long range. Morehead had trouble scoring from the perimeter to the paint as the Wildcats blocked six shots, forced 20 turnovers, and scored 20 points off those miscues in transition.

What sets the Wildcats apart from the competition?

"They’re crazy long,” Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin said. “They’ve got guys who are interchangeable who are going to meet you at the rim. They’re going to make things and collapse on driving lanes and things like that so that’s going to be a big strength of theirs.”

Spradlin, a former assistant director of operations under Calipari, doesn’t think “too many teams in the country are going to have that length,” especially at all five positions. Kentucky’s frontcourt collected eight steals in the opener including three by Clarke.

“You’re really going to have to be sharp and willing to execute your offense and share the ball so that you can negate some of that length and we weren’t able to do that,” Spradlin said.

The performance against the Eagles came on the heels of a disappointing practice on Sunday that left Calipari scratching his head. Three days and 30 practice sessions in 42 days not to mention a team meeting earlier this week produced a product that made Calipari happy for at last 24 hours.

“When we start talking all these next games we're playing, I did these guys a disservice,” he said. “I did my team a disservice. But I thought Keion (Brooks Jr.) would be playing. So I thought, you know what, we got some veterans and young, we'll be fine. Without Keion, it makes this schedule totally a different deal, and basically not really fair for these guys. No one's doing what we're doing. We're playing all these teams from here until we start our league.”

Following a Bluegrass Showcase finale against the University of Richmond Sunday, the Wildcats will take on Kansas in the State Farm Champions Classic in Indianapolis on Tuesday night.

“We got nine games and seven of them are ridiculous,” the Kentucky coach said. “And so it's going to be a tough road. And I would tell the fans, don't you be mad at these kids. Don't be mad at them. Be mad at me. … Instead of being tested for corona, I should have been tested for drugs or something.”

In the midst of a pandemic, the fans, coaches and players are just glad basketball is back.

“I owe it to these kids to give them every opportunity to have this season and play,” Calipari said. “I'm doing everything I can. And they are doing everything they can. … every other team's probably like ours. Kids are going to do everything they can to stay safe because they got a lot at stake personally.”

Gametracker: Richmond at Kentucky, 1 p.m. Sunday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or Twitter @keithtaylor21.

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