The Kentucky Wildcats kicked off its season with a 2-0 start over the weekend by defeating Stephen F. Austin 87-64 on Friday, followed by a 93-69 victory over Canisius on Sunday.
This deep Wildcat squad showed it can rely on a healthy mix of veterans and freshman when it comes to scoring, and it already looks like the 2016-17 Cats should be a better defensive team than the one that lost to Indiana in the NCAA Tournament’s third round a year ago. Here’s a look at what they’re saying...
Fox is a great ball handler and passer. Like most Calipari teams, when they’re hitting threes, they are going to be tough to beat.
The Cats went only 5-18 from downtown on Friday night, which isn’t great, so hopefully they can improve their efficiency in bigger games.
Derek Willis looks like a completely different player. Brimming with confidence. Willing and able to do more offensively than just shoot 3s.— Chris Fisher (@ChrisFisher247) November 12, 2016
I mentioned this in my postgame takeaways piece from Friday night. It’s crazy to see how far Derek Willis has come since his freshman season. He had the talent all along. It’s crazy to see what happens when you put in the time and believe in yourself.
When Brad Calipari reports to scorer's table, some fans sing Happy Birthday. He turned 20 today.— Jerry Tipton (@JerryTipton) November 12, 2016
Happy belated to Brad Calipari, perhaps the most valuable of all of his father’s highly touted recruits. Because as long as you’re at Kentucky, we know you’re Dad is going to be here, too.
SFA's Keller “I thought Ulis was one of the greatest college point guards ever … but I think De’Aaron and Monk with their speed ... whew."— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) November 12, 2016
Yes, Kentucky has two stellar freshman guards that are crazy quick and can get to the basket. Don’t forget about that Briscoe guy, too.
Calipari said Gabriel was "terrific." Said he's been with starters in practice, but Cal didn't want to open with four freshmen tonight.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) November 12, 2016
Whether Gabriel starts or not, it will be tough to keep a kid with his effort and intensity on the bench for vary long. He will be a big contributor this season, which is a testament to how deep Calipari can go. Moving on to Sunday’s game...
I can understand the Cats' play so far. I'm lethargic at dinner time on Sundays too.— meisterbuerger (@meisterbuerger) November 13, 2016
Canisius came out ready to play, getting off to a 9-2 lead three minutes in on Sunday night.
Canisius 31, UK 27: Cats can't make perimeter shots. Legit question w/this group. Long, fast, athletic. Can they shoot it well enough?— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) November 13, 2016
This will be a legitimate question when Kentucky gets into it’s tougher non-conference games, starting as early as Tuesday vs. Michigan State. The Cats also have meetings with UCLA, North Carolina, Louisville, and Kansas. How many of those will come down to UK’s ability to shoot the long ball? Time will tell.
Man. He’s fun to watch.
After first two games: Briscoe is UK leading scorer (19 ppg), followed by De'Aaron Fox 16.5 ppg and Malik Monk at 13 ppg.— Keith Taylor (@keithtaylor21) November 14, 2016
Not sure you’ll find a better backcourt trifecta in the country this season.
Through two games, Kentucky is 9-34 from three. Three of those nine were hit by Mychal Mulder, who is their fifth guard.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) November 14, 2016
Those numbers aren’t going to cut it when it comes to NCAA Tournament time. Just ask John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, and DeMarcus Cousins. You can have all the talent and athleticism in the world, but if you can’t shoot, you’re far from invincible. Willis only took four threes combined in the two games of the weekend. I mentioned before how it was great to see him become more than just a shooter, but would still like him to be a little more active from deep.
Coach Cal: We're gonna get some stuff done. (Monday practice) it'll be very focused on Michigan State, which I have not seen them play.— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) November 14, 2016
Tuesday night’s matchup with Michigan State in Madison Square Garden should be fun.
Here’s some good quotes from De’Aaron Fox on facing MSU, courtesy of Larry Vaught:
“I mean, those guys want to play us. We go out the next game and do what we are doing and I think we will be fine,” said Fox.
He knows Michigan State freshman Miles Bridges, who played at Huntington Prep and picked Michigan State over UK, and played against him in AAU.
“I know him pretty well. He is a strong guy who can get up and down the floor. He played two, three, four and has been putting up good numbers since he has been at Michigan State,” Fox said.
Fox did have some friendly conversations with future Michigan State players during all-star games last spring knowing they would be facing each other in November. He said it was all “friendly” on both sides.
“On the court, you just cut all ties. We aren’t going in saying we are about to be friends. We are going in saying it is a game,” Fox said.
He won’t let playing in Madison Square Garden impact him, either. He says he knows some of the history of Madison Square Garden and that many great players, especially in the NBA, have played there.
“They have concerts and football games and stuff. But I don’t want to go in (thinking it is more). I mean, it is another arena. There is no wall behind the goal. I mean, you have people sitting behind the goal. Go in and think of it as another game,” he said.
The Herald-Leader’s Jerry Tipton wrote about Kentucky freshman Bam Adebayo’s foul trouble on Friday night and how it improved on Sunday:
Against Canisius on Sunday, Adebayo did not foul until the 16:25 mark of the second half. He had only two fouls in his 27 minutes on the court.
Not so coincidentally, Adebayo’s production increased dramatically. After five points and one rebound against Stephen F. Austin, he had a double-double against Canisius: 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“I’m bigger than most people, so they’re going to call it different for me,” said Adebayo, who UK lists as 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds. “I just try to adjust.”
When asked how the game is called differently for big men, Adebayo said, “it’s different when I bump somebody than somebody who is like 50 pounds lighter. Because it looks like I’m bumping hard, but I’m really not.
“But I’m not worried about the referees. I’m worried about playing with my teammates and having fun.”
Of Adebayo avoiding fouls, Calipari said, “Better. Better.”
But the UK coach reminded that fouling can impact Kentucky on the offensive end, too. Adebayo posted up too low, something Calipari attributed to not wanting to get fouled.
“Well, you want to get fouled,” Calipari said.
CoachCal.com’s Guy Ramsey wrote how Isaiah Briscoe stepped up big Sunday when the Cats were struggling to find any offense.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when UK faced in-game adversity for the first time, Briscoe – the Wildcats’ undisputed leader – stepped up. Trailing Canisius 9-2 in the early going, Calipari called timeout. Briscoe was there in support.
“I just kept telling the guys that we’re fine,” Briscoe said. “Teams are going to make their runs. Just keep calm.”
And when UK returned to the floor, it was Briscoe who took the reins. He scored on each of the Cats’ next two possessions.
“When we came out sluggish, I knew that was when I had to keep us in the game and then the second half everybody got loose and then we were just playing how we play,” Briscoe said.
Behind Briscoe and his career-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting, UK established control late in the first half and surged ahead in the second. The result was a 93-69 victory for No. 2/4 Kentucky (2-0) over the visiting Golden Griffins (0-1).
“Isaiah was the man,” Calipari said. “What he did was, he just willed us when we were dying, and just said, look, I’m not settling, I’m going to get something at the rim.”
The Cats tip off against Michigan State at approximately 7 p.m. EST on Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden, a game that will broadcast live on ESPN.