LOUISVILLE – Royce White got his. The rest of the Iowa State Cyclones didn't.
Iowa State's shooters, like guard Scott Christopherson, could not get on track against the Wildcats' long, aggressive defenders. (247Sports Photo by Jeff Drummond)
That was exactly how Kentucky drew it up, and the game plan worked to perfection as the Cats deflected several Iowa State runs on the way to a 87-71 victory and third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. In fact, UK coach John Calipari went back to a tried and true defensive approach from last season's run to the Final Four to neutralize the Cyclones' dominant three-point shooting.
“Coach Cal told us like last year against Ohio State, if Sully (Jared Sullinger) gets 30 and nobody else scores then we're cool with that,” freshman forward Anthony Davis said. “We just said we were going to let (White) try to beat us and contest all shots, make it hard for everyone else to score.”
White, Iowa State's multi-dimensional version of Charles Barkley, certainly got his. The point guard in an offensive lineman's body showed quick feet, soft hands and explosive lift on the way to 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals but he was unable to defeat Kentucky by himself, which was the plan all along.
The Cyclones entered the game ranked 10th in the nation in made three-pointers per game, having hit 8.8 a night. Only five times in 33 games had they failed to make at least six triples and never fewer than four. When the roaring crowd finally went silent at the KFC Yum! Center the Cyclones had made just 3-of-22 from beyond the arc.
“They're so long and athletic,” Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson said. “They can do so many different things, switching and helping ball screens. They're one of the best defensive, if not the best defensive team, in the country with their length and athleticism.”
“They have great length that may have affected us,” Iowa State guard Bubu Palo added. “We rushed some shots worrying about their length. We didn't have time to calm down, set our feet, and shoot the ball with confidence.”
That was Kentucky's design all along: let White go head to head with Terrence Jones but have everyone else remain disciplined in staying out on the shooters. Iowa State entered the game with four players who had made at least 50 three-pointers on the season but that quartet went 2-of-19, including a 1-of-10 effort from Chris Allen.
“It was pretty much putting me one-on-one and let him do what he wanted to do but don't let him pass it out to the shooters for threes,” Jones said. “For a team like us that likes to block shots and help one another (it's difficult) but I told my teammates to stay on their main and I'd do my best on (White).”
“We all did a great job on the defensive end,” freshman guard Marquis Teague added. “If Royce got 30 so be it, but didn't want to let the other players get off.”
That didn't happen and Teague had a great deal to do with it. Not only was the point guard the best he has been on the offensive end he hounded Christopherson into being a complete mental mess. The Iowa State guard did end up with 15 points but they were mostly inconsequential and he never found the rhythm that could carry over to the rest of the Cyclones.
“We knew (Christopherson) was one of their main shooters and had knocked down a lot of big shots, so I just wanted to make it as hard on him as possible,” Teague said.
“When we watched film Coach (John Robic) told us he was the key to the team and Marquis did a great locking him up, getting into his body and not letting him do what he wanted,” Davis said. “That carried over to everyone else missing shots and not getting into the game. He usually gets everyone else involved and when he wasn't making shots it carried over to everyone else.”
There was heavy praise for White after the game, but also the satisfied smiles of a team that knew it executed to near perfection.
“If he scored, he scored,” sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. “He could get 30 but we weren't going to let the shooters beat us though.”