UK Basketball: Davis fast approaching school record for blocked shots
Freshman center Anthony Davis, right, who already is a fan favorite at Kentucky, needs just two blocked shots tonight to set a single-season record at UK. (Victoria Graff)
Davis leads the nation in blocked shots with 82 (4.6 per game) and should surpass the 83 shots Melvin Turpin blocked in 1982-83 and Andre Riddick blocked in 1993-94. He went by the freshman record of 79 set by Jamaal Magloire in 1996-97 when he swatted away four shots Saturday at Tennessee.
He has blocked at least three shots in every game but one — and he had two blocks in that game. He had a season-high eight blocked shots against St. John’s.
“I think 100 percent of it is just instinct. It’s all about timing. You never know when a guy is going to shoot, so you have to time it and use your instincts to go up and block it,” Davis said.
Kentucky coach John Calipari says because Davis played guard before a late growth spurt in high school, he has a “quicker reaction, a quicker twitch” and better overall instincts than post players who have dominated games with their size during their entire playing careers.
Davis was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week after averaging 16 points, seven rebounds, four blocks, 2.5 steals and two assists in wins at Auburn and at Tennessee. He has scored in double figures in seven straight games and eight of the last nine.
He gained national acclaim with his last-second block of John Henson’s shot to preserve UK’s win over North Carolina, but he says that is not his favorite block this season. Instead, he liked it when South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington came to him during Kentucky’s win over the Gamecocks.
“He was telling me, ‘I don’t know why my teammates keep going in there, they know you’re going to block it.’ That was really funny,” Davis said.
Davis has been able to block seven 3-point shots this season and has helped UK¿lead the nation in blocked shots going into tonight’s game against Arkansas. Kentucky has blocked 164 shots and is second in the nation in field goal defense (35.6 percent) behind only Wisconsin (35.1 percent). No opponent has shot 50 percent from the field this season against the Wildcats.
“When I’m out of the game, I see a lot of guys driving to the hole, getting layups, and coach Cal even said, ‘He means a lot to us on defense,’” Davis said. “When I’m out of the game, they really try to drive and get easy layups.”
Davis is on pace to block over 150 shots if the Cats play 34 games. With 15 league games left, Kentucky could easily play 20 or more games depending on its postseason success. The SEC record is 170 blocked shots by Jarvis Varnado of Mississippi State in 2008-09, and the national record is 207 by David Robinson of Navy in 1985-86 — the first year the NCAA started counting blocked shots.
Because of Davis, the Wildcats also are on pace set the NCAA team record for blocks over Connecticut’s 2004 title team, which had 315.
However, what has excited Calipari even more recently is Davis’ offensive improvement. At Tennessee, he caught a high pass on the baseline late in the game and hit a nifty hook shot.
“I definitely developed that (at UK). We work on it every day. Coach (Kenny) Payne shows me how to go up,” Davis said.
“That shot Anthony Davis made in that situation ... first time in his life,” Calipari said. “Now he is starting to feel better about himself.”
Another time Davis was lucky to catch a lob pass, but he not only soared to catch it, he also finished the play and scored.
“When he threw it, the man stepped over and went up for it, so I just tried to grab it and come down instead of dunking it. I was not even thinking about dunking it when I saw him. I just came down and finished the play,” Davis said.
Calipari was impressed that Davis knew he couldn’t originally dunk the ball when he went for the catch.
“What would he do in other games? Try to dunk. He has learned and still makes that play,” Calipari said.