By LARRY VAUGHT
Auburn freshman point guard Sharife Cooper is off to a sensational start after finally being cleared by the NCAA to play this season.
The 6-1 guard had 26 points, nine assists, four rebounds and three steals in his collegiate debut in a 94-90 loss to Alabama and scored or assisted on 16 of Auburn’s 29 field goals in the game.
Now Kentucky gets its chance to slow down Cooper Saturday.
Will it be good or bad for Kentucky that UK freshman Brandon Boston, who has struggled all season to make shots, and Cooper are good friends? Could Boston be tempted to try and do too much and take even more shots even though he has attempted 40 more shots than any other UK player already?
“We talked about it, so I’ve already addressed it with BJ,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Friday. “I said, ‘You know, you are getting better. Stay the course. You are getting better. Stay the course.’
“For all my guys, I keep saying, if you’re not playing well offensively, do what Anthony Davis did. Do what Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist) did. They didn’t worry about it. They got it in other ways. They rebounded, they blocked shots, they would get it in transition. They weren’t worried about that. And then they would come back the next week, ‘Let me work on this so I can feel more comfortable.’
“But BJ, he’s working, he’s trying. This has really been hard because some of his habits are not habits that will work at this level or the next level. They just won’t. And he knows it. He knows he’s not playing as well as he needs to.”
Cooper is not having that problem. His presence has changed Auburn’s offensive dynamic and after the way Alabama’s guards punished UK Tuesday, one has to wonder if UK has anyone who can stay in front of Cooper the way teams used to have trouble stopping Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis.
“I thought of that too. Like, he plays a lot like he played. Tyler had a little different kind of game to him, but they have similarities,” Calipari said.
Calipari said his team better be prepared to play transition defense.
“They’re scoring 15 in transition with him at point, and the reason is, like some of the great guards I’ve had, that ball hits his hands and it may be out of his hands in a half second up the court. What would that do to people on your team? That means they’re flying because if they get a two-step lead, he will throw it,” the UK coach said.
“So, the biggest thing has been that. The second thing is he really sees things before they happen. He knows about what’s going to happen whether it’s a pass to a lob, whether it’s a skip. He’s a terrific player. And we recruited him, so I know how good he is. He’s a special (player). He’s got a special talent.”