The Kentucky Wildcats will finish their first quarter of the college basketball season by hosting the Arizona State Sun Devils Saturday in Rupp Arena.
Sitting at 8-1, the' Cats have shown plenty of promise in their first nine contests, but if they want to play in 40 games into the Final Four, they'll have to make some big improvements over the next 3/4 of the season. That was clear during their last two games, an 87-77 loss at UCLA and an 88-67 home win over EKU that was much closer than the final score indicated.
During Kentucky's most recent win, the 'Cats started with the lineup of Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe, Jamal Murray, Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere for the first time this season. It seemed to work as UK scored the first six points of the game and jumped out to a 12-2 lead and went into halftime ahead 50-36.
But the Colonels would rally and cut the lead to single digits several times in the second half before UK closed the game with a 15-2 run for a final score of 88-67. That was a season-high in points for the Cats led by Poythress' 21 points and a career-high-tying 13 rebounds, his third double-double of the season and fifth of his career.
Marcus Lee came off the bench and had a perfect shooting night, making all five field goals, plus his only free-throw attempt, for 11 points. He had a career-high five blocked shots.
However, the 'Cats still aren't getting the kind of production from fellow big man Skal Labissiere they'd hoped to get. Through nine games, the freshman forward is averaging 11.8 points, 3.9 boards and 2.2 blocks in 22.6 minutes per game. he's scored a grand total of 18 points and seven boards over his last three games.
That's simply not going to cut it if this UK team is going to be a Final Four contender.
As for the Sun Devils, they've quietly been a nice surprise team early this season. That culminated with their upset win over then-No. 16 Texas A&M this past Saturday, 67-54. Arizona State held an Aggies team who entered the contest ranked 21st nationally in field goal percentage (.500) to a season-low 31.1 percent (19-61) shooting. Texas A&M’s 54-point outing also marks a season-low.
Junior forward Savon Goodman recorded his third double-double of the young season posting ten points along with a game-high 12 rebounds. He's easily the Sun Devils' best player and someone that can expose the Cats' frontcourt woes. Goodman leads the team in points (13.4), boards (8.3) and field-goal percentage (63.2%).
The Sun Devils as a whole hit the boards well as they are outrebounding its opponents by 8.0 per game and have 38 more offensive rebounds (114-76). They have five players averaging at least 5.4 rebounds per game and as a team are grabbing 42.4 boards per contest, good for 35th in the nation. They're also pulling down 14.3 offensive boards per game, good for 36th in the nation.
UK will see a bit of a familiar face this week in new Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley. Last year, Hurley took his Buffalo squad into Lexington on Nov. 16 and led the Wildcats 38-33 at the half before falling 71-52. That ended up being a Bulls team that made it to the NCAA Tournament, and a win in Rupp Arena this time around would certainly push the Sun Devils towards that after making the big dance just once from 2009-15.
Here is everything you'll need to get set for Kentucky vs Arizona State and how to watch/listen to the game.
Arizona State Sun Devils (6-2) at Kentucky Wildcats (8-1)
When: Saturday, Dec. 12th
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
Game Time: 3:15 pm ET
Rosters: ASU Roster; Kentucky Roster
Online Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: UK Radio Network (Tom Leach, Mike Pratt)
Odds: UK is a 12-point favorite, per Vegas Insider.
Projected ASU Starters
G - Tra Holder, 6-1, 180 lbs
G - Gerry Blakes, 6-4, 195 lbs
F - Willie Atwood, 6-7, 215 lbs
F - Savon Goodman, 6-6, 220 lbs
C - Eric Jacobsen, 6-10, 240 lbs
Projected Kentucky Starters
G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs
G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs
G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs
F - Alex Poythress, 6-6, 230 lbs
F - Skal Labissiere, 6-11, 225 lbs