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What They’re Saying: Champions Classic Edition

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What the media is saying after Kentucky’s 69-48 route of Michigan State in the Champions Classic

NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Kentucky vs Michigan State
Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) controls the ball against Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After Tuesday, the Kentucky Wildcats have the best record in the six-year history of the Champions Classic at 4-2.

The Cats dominated the Spartans in Madison Square Garden for pretty much the entire game. Kentucky held highly touted freshman Miles Bridges, a 6’7” guard/forward that scored 21 points in Michigan State’s opener against Arizona, to just six points on 2-of-11 field goals.

Perhaps one of the biggest question marks for the Cats entering the match-up with the Spartans was their ability to shoot the outside shot. Luckily, freshman guard Malik Monk came up huge, going 7-for-11 from beyond the arc, although the rest of the Cats collectively went 0-for-10. Kentucky’s defense was solid and the Spartans simply could not keep up with the Wildcats in transition.

Here’s a look at what they’re saying...

In a tightly called game from an officiating perspective, turnovers absolutely killed the Spartans, who ended up with 21 on the game.

Ditto.

No...He’s not just a diaper dandy. He’s not just a P-T-P’er. He’s a prime time shooter, too. Hopefully he can keep that up. Because he was awesome tonight, with a capital “A.”

Those are big shoes to fill, at least, figuratively speaking.

What?? I thought all freshmen went 7-for-11 from the three point line on national television in their third game of the season?!

We’re glad to have him back. Like really glad. And I love that he is being the vocal leader of this team. I think I heard the term “senior-sophomore” or vice-versa thrown around at one point on the pregame radio show. They grow up so fast.

Tomato, tomahto, right?

Can’t say enough about the effort I’ve seen in three games from Wenyen Gabriel. He has the fire and desire to be great in March.

It’s no secret that Cal is a bit of a showman; he makes certain comments just to get attention or just to see what type of response he gets. I don’t think this is one of those comments. I think he’s dead serious, which is scary.

Michigan State shot 33 percent...yes, you can attribute some of that to great defense, but the Spartans missed some open shots; they were only 19 percent from long-range.

LOL. I’m a shooter, too, Coach.

Tom Izzy is one of the classiest coaches in the game. So I don’t want to say I like seeing him say that. So I’m not going to say it.

Top three, maybe? What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments section.

Easy, Tom. You all shot below 20 percent from three. I am glad you were embarrassed. There, I said it.

That was one advantage I thought Kentucky had going into the game: Cal’s experience coaching young teams. Relying so much on freshmen talent is new to Izzo.

Adam Zagoria of Zags Blog had a nice take on Isaiah Briscoe, making the point that you don’t have to be ‘one and done’ to succeed at Kentucky:

After all, Briscoe last season averaged 9.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 44 percent from the field and 14 percent from deep.

“The only thing that held him back was he shot 14 percent from the 3 and 48 from the line, that’s a hard deal, man,” Calipari said. “He said, ‘I’m a shooter.’ I said, ‘You’re a shooter, you’re just not a maker.’

This year, by contrast, Briscoe has clearly improved his shot — although he went 8-of-18 and 0-of-3 from deep — while improving other aspects of his game, most notably his leadership of guys like Monk, Fox and Adebayo.“

He came in last year as a freshman with Tyler [Ulis] and he was a great leader,” said Monk, who scored a game-high 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting.

“And he’s taken the role of Tyler now with us freshman, just teaching us we have to do in practice, what to do in games. He’s been through a lot and helps guide us through.’

“You see his rebounding, you see his leadership, you see his defending,” Calipari said. “I said, ‘You don’t have to make all the shots, you just can’t miss them all.'”

Briscoe said it’s easier to lead freshmen when they’re special freshmen.

“The group of freshmen, they’re not ordinary freshmen,” he said. “They pick up things fast. They listen and they know how to basketball. We don’t really run a lot of plays so that’s big for the freshmen.”

Those freshmen need a leader and Briscoe’s effort drew praise from Naismith Hall of Famer Tom Izzo, whose team is now 0-2 on the young season.

“Just a tough gritty kid, you gotta love that kid,” Izzo said of Briscoe.

SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker wrote how Malik Monk finally broke out for a barrage of threes to help bury the Spartans.

So what if he’d only made 3 of 12 3-pointers in his first two college games? Freshman guard Malik Monk has always been a streaky shooter, and he started feeling it again hours before the second-ranked Wildcats tipped off against 13th-ranked Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.

“He had an unbelievable shootaround,” Calipari said. “Malik Monk had one of the best shootarounds any of my players have had the past few years, and I expected he would go in and play well.”

Good call. Monk buried his first three 3-pointers against the Spartans, signaling to teammates that he was cooking and keep it coming his way. They did, and Monk finished 7 of 11 from deep, dropping 23 points and 6 rebounds in a stunningly easy 69-48 win over Michigan State in the Champions Classic.

“Had two other players on the team that had so-so shootarounds, and guess what? They had so-so games,” Calipari said. Players not named Monk shot 0 for 10 from beyond the arc. “And it was a great lesson.”

Jon Rothstein was really impressed with how dominant UK was on the defensive end in addition to Monk’s scoring.

John Calipari’s squad completely stifled Michigan State freshman Miles Bridges, holding him to six points on a night in which he made just 2-of-11 shots from the field.

“We’re getting better,” Calipari said after the game. “Our pick-and-roll defense stinks right now, but it’ll get better. We get out rebounded again, but we’re getting better. These guys took a lot of pride in this game.”

How good was the Wildcats’ defense?

Not one player on the Spartans’ roster reached double-figures in scoring, and Tom Izzo’s squad only shot a combined 32.3 percent from the field and 19.2 percent from three-point range.

Monk was sensational on offense and made seven three-point shots (he was the only Kentucky player to make a field goal from long distance), but he’s much different than the deep shot makers that Calipari has had in past years with guys like Doron Lamb, James Young, Aaron Harrison, and Jamal Murray.

A freak athlete with a terrific mid-range game, Monk is more of an in-between scorer than the guys that have preceded him at Kentucky off the ball which means the Wildcats’ overall defense is that much more important.

If this team is going to be elite, it’s going to be because of the way it defends its opponents

And finally, John Calipari had a funny interaction with a Sports Illustrated for Kids reporter after the game that is must-watch: