Vaught's Views: Ole Miss coach says Noel the difference in Wildcats' win over Rebels
Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel (3) has blocked 34 shots in the last five games and LSU coach Johnny Jones said Monday ¿the intimidation factor¿ he brings has opponents always looking to see where he is. (AP Photo / January 31, 2013)
Even though he missed his only shot as well as six of eight rebounds and was below his season’s average with just seven rebounds, Noel impacted UK’s 87-74 win in a way few players ever could by blocking a school-record 12 shots. Five came in the last five minutes when he was playing with four fouls.
“He was the difference in the game. We all would agree with that. He is an incredible defensive presence,” said Kennedy. “The way everybody is guarding (Ole Miss guard) Marshall (Henderson), it’s no secret that they’re going to switch and defend on all of the screening action. Nerlens would not allow the ball to go in the basket. As a result, we ran out of possessions and they capitalized.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the game that Noel “was good” even though he blistered him for picking up his fourth foul midway of the second half on a reach-in call when UK¿had a 17-point lead. Ole Miss immediately ran off 16 straight points even though Calipari put Noel back into the game.
But with about five minutes to play, Noel said enough. Whether Calipari instructed him to become more aggressive again or whether he decided he was tired of seeing the Rebels score, he went to work. He blocked about every inside attempt Ole Miss dared put up and UK began converting on the offensive end to pull out a win it desperately needed.
“He was trying to steal balls while we were trying to win the game. That’s the play of the freshman. We lose focus,” Calipari said after game.
Wonder how much coaches would like to have a player who lost his focus like Noel did?
ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes almost couldn’t believe what he was seeing late in the game from Noel against Mississippi’s physical, older inside players.
“That is just incredible what Nerlens Noel has done with four fouls in this game. He moves his feet, stays down and times it perfectly and is keeping his body off guys,” Dykes said.
Not once.¿Not twice. Not three times. Not four times. But five times he did that with four fouls. In a game where it seemed like the whistle never stopped blowing, that was an incredible feat.
Last spring I remember ESPN recruiting director Paul Biancardi indicating that signing Noel was bigger for UK than getting current UCLA freshman standout Shabazz Muhammad. Why? Because Noel could defend at the rim.
Biancardi was right. So might those have been who indicated that Noel was a better shot blocker than Anthony Davis, UK’s sensational center last season. Noel has 49 blocks in seven SEC games and 95 overall in 20 games. That’s on the same record-setting pace Davis, the top pick in the 2012 NBA draft, set last season when he had 93 blocks in 20 games.
Noel’s 95 blocks lead the nation by two over St. John's Chris Obepka, who has also played 20 games. And Noel is picking up his pace. He averaged about 4.5 blocks per game in non-conference play. In SEC games, he’s getting 7.0 per game.
Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor Chris Dortch was impressed Tuesday. He posted on Twitter: “Unbelievable rim protection by Nerlens Noel. Best quick jumper in the college game and long arms equals master rejector.”
WKYT-TV sports reporter Dave Baker posted on Twitter: “Remember when he was recruited some said Nerlens was a better shot blocker than AD — I'm now a believer.”
And so am I.