Vaught's Views: Marquis Teague continues to show improvement with nine-assist effort against Arkansas
Kentucky coach John Calipari said Marquis Teague had an "unbelievable floor game¿ after getting a career-high nine assists with two steals and just three turnovers while playing 36 minutes in UK¿s win over Arkansas. (Victoria Graff)
Teague only had seven points in Tuesday’s 86-63 victory over Arkansas, but that’s what was best about his game. He didn’t think about scoring like previous UK¿point guards John Wall and Brandon Knight had to do for coach John Calipari. Instead, Teague was content to distribute the ball, run the offense and continue to play defense.
He finished with a career-high nine assists, two steals and three turnovers — just one in the second half — in a team-high 36 minutes. He was 2-for-4 from the field, 3-for-4 at the foul line. He helped limit Arkansas to 5-for-15 shooting from 3-point range.
He was so good that the normally contrary Calipari could only compliment him after the game. He noted that Teague had an "unbelievable floor game” and told him it was the best he had played because “nothing was forced” during the game.
“He didn't make any crazy plays. It was unbelievable,” Calipari said.
Well, maybe not unbelievable for two reasons. First, Calipari’s point guards always get better as the season progresses. Two, Teague has been running the team well since Southeastern Conference play started.
What’s made the difference?
“He's really focused and zoned in on how he's got to start playing. He's playing as a point guard versus trying to score baskets. He's still scoring and making free throws. The biggest thing is our team is a totally different team when he's playing (that way),” Calipari said. “I want him to play fast but in control. In other words, if they're trying to press, go. We're not going to hold back how we play. If it's back there, we're going to grind it out. We're a good grind¿it¿out team.
“Obviously, I would love to play fast the whole game, but you've got to be able to play in the half court, defend in the half court, play offense in the half court, grind out clock and make people make plays late in the clock. He's got to run us and be able to do that, and he did that today.”
Teague has insisted he never felt pressure when he was being criticized by Calipari during his learning process and second-guessed by fans. What he did was listen. He’s not taking every open 3-point shot teams give him. He’s not trying to force passes. He’s re-setting the offense when needed.
Arkansas wanted to press Kentucky and force turnovers. Teague could not have been happier.
“I was just taking the plays they were giving me,” Teague said. “I was creating for teammates and when they were open, they made shots. I just slowed down a lot more. I was finding people earlier and not taking extra dribbles. I am the point guard so I have to get everyone involved and make everyone happy. I need to get everyone the ball where they can score. I want to take what the defense gives me. If I have a bucket, I will take it, and if I have to pass I will do that.
“I like to play up and down. When people press me, I kind of like that because that requires us to be running and getting up and down the floor. I feel like I am playing better. I am making better decisions and running the team better.”
It was a feel-good game for Kentucky from the time it jumped in front 13-2 and really never was challenged. The most suspense came in the second half with Anthony Davis again flirted with a triple-double before settling for 27 points (10-for-12 from the field, 7-for-8 at the foul line), 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
But Terrence Jones showed more spark (13 points, five blocked shots, one steal). Darius Miller was more aggressive offensively (11 points, 5-for-8 shooting). Doron Lamb ended his scoring slump with 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting. Kyle Wiltjer came off the bench to hit two shots for the second straight game. And Michael Kidd-Gilchrist just tagged along with 10 points, four rebounds, four assists and one blocked shot in a game where the Cats didn’t have to rely on his will to win to survive.
Yet Teague’s play was the key because he made sure everything flowed the way Calipari wanted.
“In high school I¿had to score more because I did not play with guys as good. Now I can find them and they finish plays,” Teague said. “I am more comfortable in an up-and-down game. I just had to make the right decisions. I¿can still play better and make better decisions. I think I am playing good defense, especially on the ball. But as the guards we play get tougher, I have to make sure to pick up my defense, too.”
Pass. Defense. Slow down. Those are words that should have made Calipari sleep well. If Teague continues to do those things, Kentucky could become the “elite team” that Calipari says the Cats can be.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, who has seen the harassing defensive style his team plays create havoc for point guards, left Rupp Arena impressed with Teague.
“I thought he did a good job taking care of the basketball. I don’t think we applied as much pressure as we wanted to but a lot of that credit goes to them being prepared. He took care of the basketball and got it to the right people at the right time,” Anderson said.
Sounds simple, but it’s not that easy to always do. But the more Teague does it, the easier it will get. And the more he gets it, the better UK becomes.