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Kentucky Basketball: Takeaways from Wildcats beating Stephen F. Austin

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Takeaways from Kentucky’s opening game in Rupp Arena vs. the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

NCAA Basketball: Stephen F. Austin at Kentucky
Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox (0) dribbles the ball against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks in the first half at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats cruised past the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks in its season opener in Rupp Arena by a final score of 87-64.

The Lumberjacks, with only five players returning from last season’s team that went to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, looked solid early under new Head Coach Kyle Keller, but ultimately could not keep up with the Cats’ tempo. As a team, Kentucky had five players score in double figures, and also had a total of eight blocks to add to 12 steals on the night.

Fast and fun to watch.

The superiorly athletic Wildcats put up 48 points in the first half, spreading the floor and running like crazy. Whenever Stephen F. Austin would turn the ball over, which they did quite often (28 times), the Cats were on the move.

Kentucky was efficient in transition, but there were a few occasions earlier in the game where the Cats lost control, whether missing an easy bucket or committing a careless turnover. But Kentucky controlled the tempo better in the second half as they let their foot off the gas.

Willis on a mission.

Derek Willis’ confidence has been increasing by the day. He’s clearly no longer just a shooter. He plays solid defense, he can get to the rack, he can draw a foul, he makes the free throws. He finished with 15 points, 10 of which came early in the first half, and also had three blocks and five boards.

It’s not a stretch to say Willis was the best player in this game. If nothing else, his ability to step up like he did while the freshman struggled shows how important he is this season.

Hustlers.

Isaac Humphries and Wenyen Gabriel were running all over the floor, battling on the boards, taking charges, diving for loose balls, and hustling back to the basket in transition. Gabriel already looks like a star in the making and scored in a variety of ways while being menace on defense.

If these two can keep up this high level of intensity and effort through March, watch out, because the ceiling for this UK team is even higher than we imagined.

The Briscoe Show.

Isaiah Briscoe made sure he got his. The Lumberjack defenders had no answer for his quick first step and excellent ball handling. He penetrated and got to the rack at will, finishing with 17 points, but wasn’t great from the charity stripe, making four of seven, which is an improvement from last year.

Briscoe also looked much improved as a ball-handler and running the offense whenever Fox was in foul trouble or needed a breather. He truly is the glue that puts this team together and makes them a legitimate title contender.

Dimes by the dozen

Freshman De’Aaron Fox was dishing out assists left and right, finishing with 12 to add to 12 points, four rebounds and three steals. Not a bad way to start your first game in a Kentucky uniform.

Mulder gets off to a hot start.

Mychal Mulder entered the 2015-16 season with a reputation for knocking down the long ball, but we didn’t see much of it in his first season with the Cats. It was encouraging to see him come out 2-for-3 from downtown in his senior debut and finish with eight points. He may only be called on for a handful of minutes each game, but he’s already shown he make an impact with them.

Where was Bam?

On the bench, for the most part. John Calipari said going into the game that he had made a point for Bam not to get into foul trouble. He was called for two in the first two minutes of the game and sat for the rest of the first half, finishing the game with only five points in 15 minutes.