Shadow man

Tennessee basketball assistant Jason Shay is like John Calipari's shadow. Wherever Calipari goes, Shay follows.

Shay did an outstanding job scouting the Memphis Tigers when Calipari was head coach there, enabling the Vols to hammer the 16th-ranked Tigers 76-58 at Knoxville in 2006 and stun the top-ranked Tigers 66-62 at Memphis in 2008.

Given the excellent scouting reports Shay prepared on Calipari's Memphis teams, it seemed logical to keep Shay shadowing Calipari now that the latter is coaching the Kentucky Wildcats. So that's what Tennessee head man Bruce Pearl has done.

Shay rewarded Pearl's faith by helping put together an exceptional game plan for Tennessee's Feb. 13 game at Lexington. Recognizing that Tennessee could not guard the talented Cats man to man, the Vol staff opted for a 3-2 zone defense that nearly produced a stunning upset. The Big Orange led 52-50 before succumbing to a late UK rally and bowing 73-62.

Obviously, today's rematch will be different. Kentucky won't be surprised to see a 3-2 zone this afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"No, they'll be ready for zone but that's fine," Shay said. "At this time of year everybody's scouted you enough that they know what to expect. Yeah, we caught them by surprise last time. That's what we had to do to stay in the game and give ourselves a chance to win the game.

"Is zone going to be part of our package this time? Yeah, it is. Is it going to be the entire package? I don't know. We'll have to see."

Shay says the 2009-10 Wildcats are a typical Calipari team except for one thing: They have even more quality players than his Memphis teams had, including the 2007-08 squad that reached the NCAA title game.

"This Kentucky team is similar to his Memphis teams," Shay said. "Obviously, he's got a system in place but he's going to tweak that based on his personnel. This team is better than his Memphis teams, though, because of the depth. This team is a lot bigger and deeper than the teams he had at Memphis. That makes them more formidable."

In addition to incredible size, athleticism and depth, this Kentucky team has a tenacity that lives up to the Wildcat nickname.

"They've got a nice resolve at the end of ball games," Shay said. "They really compete when it comes to the stretch, when it comes down to the winning time. You've got to do a good job of handling that pressure, handling that adversity and matching their intensity late in the game."

To date, only one team has handled that late-game pressure and intensity well enough to beat the Big Blue, which is 27-1 and ranked No. 2 nationally. South Carolina handed Kentucky a 68-62 setback Jan. 26 in Columbia.

Shay has watched that game studiously in hopes of finding ways to counter the Cats.

"Kentucky was right there; it came down to the last minute," the Vol aide said. "They had an unfortunate turnover real late in the game. South Carolina did a real good job of controlling tempo. Devan Downey made some shots late in the shot clock. When he did miss, they cleaned up the rebound. They had 22 second-chance points, and that's how you win a ball game at home.

"Kentucky just didn't get that one. But, for that to be their only loss, they're doing a lot of things right."

That's obvious. Less obvious is what the Cats are doing wrong. Finding those weaknesses is Jason Shay's knack. That's why he's a quality scout ... and John Calipari's shadow.

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