When it comes to defending pick-and-rolls, Jacob Toppin isn’t picky

·4 min read
Alex Slitz/aslitz@herald-leader.com

After Jacob Toppin filled up a busy stat line Wednesday night, Kentucky Coach John Calipari saluted the likelihood that the versatile forward could be all over an opponent’s game plan.

“I’m just telling you the biggest thing is he can guard five positions,” Calipari said after UK defeated Texas A&M 64-58 in College Station.

Toppin said he is not particular about what opponent he is assigned to defend. Big man, point guard or anything in between is fine.

“As I’ve said before … , whoever Coach needs me to guard, I’m going to guard,” Toppin said. “And I’m going to do it with pride because I take pride in my defense. So, whoever is in front of me, I’m going to try my hardest to stop them.”

Calipari noted how Toppin can be effective in UK’s defense of pick-and-roll action because he can defend either the ball handler or switch onto the usually bigger player setting the pick.

“We put him on the point guard … if that was bothering us,” Calipari said. “… He could guard the ‘five’ if that was the one we thought could hurt us.”

Toppin contributed nine points, six rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in UK’s victory at A&M.

Fittingly, Toppin credited Kentucky’s better second-half defense as key to winning. After shooting with 50-percent accuracy in the first half (16 of 32), Texas A&M made only 10 of 34 shots in the second half.

When asked what led to the better defense, Toppin said, “Pride. I don’t think we took pride in our defense in the first half.”

Going forward, Calipari noted how Toppin can compensate for his slender physique (6-foot-9 and 200 pounds) by taking the initiative.

“When he learns to hit first, then your physique doesn’t matter,” the UK coach said. “If they hit first, your physique matters.”

‘Difference-maker’

Davion Mintz equaled a season high by grabbing eight rebounds. That was one shy of a career high.

When asked if he was proud of his rebounding he said, “Yeah. Absolutely. The shots weren’t falling. I had to do something. … I’m just trying to impact winning.”

Mission accomplished, said Calipari, who added that MIntz “was the difference-maker in this game.”

Calipari dismissed the notion of Mintz being affected by coming off the bench. Mintz has started 101 college games, including 21 of UK’s 25 games last season. This season he started one of the two games Sahvir Wheeler sat out.

“I’m telling you, whether you start or not, at Kentucky?! … It doesn’t matter here,” Calipari said.

The UK coach noted that Darius Miller and Devin Booker are among players who had or are having NBA careers despite not always starting for Kentucky.

“If you’re into eighth-grade stuff (like scoring and starting), that all matters,” Calipari said. “You’re at Kentucky.”

Versus ranked

A&M has not beaten an opponent in The Associated Press Top 25 in almost two years.

The Aggies’ most recent victory against a ranked opponent came at No. 17 Auburn on March 4, 2020.

A&M’s last two home victories against a ranked opponent might evoke a memory. The Aggies beat No. 24 Kentucky 85-74 on Feb. 10, 2018, and No. 14 Kentucky 79-77 in overtime on Feb. 20, 2016.

Overall, A&M went into the game with a record of 20-40 against ranked opponents in Reed Arena.

Tickets on sale

Tickets for the SEC Tournament went on sale Tuesday. They are available at SECTicketoffice.com or at Ticketmaster.com.

The prices for all-session tickets (13 games) range from $360 (300 level behind a sideline) to $250 (highest rows).

The SEC Tournament is scheduled for March 9-13 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.

Nearing 800

Calipari increased his career victory total to 799. That includes games that the NCAA subsequently ordered vacated.

He can gain his 800th against longtime nemesis Bruce Pearl on Saturday at Auburn.

Kentucky beating A&M while making only 36.2 percent of the shots seemed to especially please Calipari.

“I love those games,” he said. “Just absolutely love them. … That means you had to fight. You had to guard. And you have to rebound or you had no chance of winning.”

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