Aggression at the Rim

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 21 North Carolina’s inside-out offensive approach will be tested by the nation’s top interior defense on Saturday.

No. 1 Kentucky has built its 10-0 record on the outstretched arms of its arsenal of long, athletic bodies in the post.

The Wildcats lead the nation in blocked shots (86) and have blocked 25.9 percent of their opponents’ 2-point field goal attempts, according to Head coach John Calipari’s squad also leads the country in 2-point field goal percentage (30.7) and adjusted defensive efficiency (83.3).

The trouble for Kentucky opponents is that it’s not just one shot-blocking specialist on the interior, such as former Wildcat Anthony Davis, to account for. Five different Wildcats have blocked at least 10 shots this season, led by freshman Karl-Anthony Towns’s 28 swats.

“The game is an athletic game, and protecting the rim is a huge part of the game, and they’ve sort of cornered the market this year,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said on Friday. “I’d say that specific grouping of guys that can block shots, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

The only reference point Williams could muster was the Georgetown block party that Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutumbo held nearly 25 years ago.

Kentucky’s two-platoon system includes a pair of 7-footers and three more at 6-foot-9 or taller. UNC’s primary three-man post rotation of Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson or Isaiah Hicks tops out at 6-foot-9. Due to those height limitations, Williams told reporters there was no way for his team to simulate Kentucky’s size or length in practice.

“We’re not going to make them lose six inches of their height or six inches of their reach, but we can’t just say, ‘Okay, we’re not going to try to get the ball inside,’” Williams said. “We’ve just got to be more aggressive with it.”

Aggressiveness goes hand-in-hand with toughness, which has been a talking point during the first month of the season for the Tar Heels. Butler and Iowa both dominated the offensive glass in their upsets over UNC.

Johnson, in particular, has struggled with physicality, telling reporters after the Iowa loss that he needed “to stop being a baby” and dunk the ball instead of trying to lay it in.

That type of mentality is crucial against a team that can be so disruptive at the rim.

“You can’t be intimidated,” Williams said. “If you’re going to go, you’ve got to go hard. I’ve always said the softer that you go against a shot blocker, the more effective he becomes… My general rule is one pump fake and right at their face. If you go right at their face, it’s more difficult for a shot blocker.”

Equally as important will be UNC’s ability to defend the rim on the defensive end. While their swat statistics may pale in comparison to Kentucky’s numbers, the Tar Heels rank 18th nationally in blocked shot percentage (16.1).

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