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Ex-Tilton star Noel keeps feet on ground at Kentucky
Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) takes a shot against the Auburn Tigers during the first half at Auburn Arena. (John Reed-USA TODAY Sports)
After Kentucky beat Auburn 75-53 Saturday night, Coach John Calipari mentioned how Noel is doing a better job of staying on his feet and not jumping too early to try to block shots.
"Every day we do drills to stay down," Calipari said of Kentucky's efforts to get improved play from Noel, a former Tilton School star. "So much stuff you have to teach when they're so young."
Calipari likened the problem-solving associated with a freshman-oriented team to sticking fingers in a leaky dike. One problem solved, then another issue arises.
Fans will recall how opponents early this season took advantage of Kentucky's eagerness to block shots. When Noel and company leaped to block the same shot, opponents came from the weak side and feasted on offensive rebounds.
"Part of buying in," Calipari said of Noel's growing savvy as a shot blocker. "Don't leave your feet. We do the drills. Now, go in the game and concentrate. Have some discipline. And he has. And he's still blocking shots."
At Auburn, Noel blocked seven shots, which equaled a season high. That gave him 20 blocks in Kentucky's last three games.
"He's blocking more (shots) than before when he was leaving his feet," Calipari said.
Despite Noel limited to 25 minutes because of foul trouble, Kentucky outrebounded Auburn, 43-30. Not that Noel did not have significant impact. With Noel on the bench, Auburn used more scoring chances around the basket to rally briefly in the second half.
"He helps everybody," Calipari said of Noel, "because you can't just drive, now. Because he's back there, and he will block it."
Noel's presence (his 25 minutes were fewer than he's played in all but one game this season) helped make Auburn dependent on perimeter shooting.
The Tigers missed all 15 of their three-point shots, thus becoming the first UK opponent since 2001 to miss all its shots from beyond the arc. Mississippi State missed all 19 of its three-point shots against Kentucky on Feb. 10, 2001.