Sunday’s lopsided victory over Hofstra at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, was yet another stepping stone in the season-long quest for fans, analysts, Kentucky players, and coaches, that seeks to determine the identity of another completely different Kentucky basketball team than the one they were watching a season ago.
Kentucky began Sunday’s contest holding a fairly steady, 7-12 point lead through the game’s first 12 minutes. Then, all of a sudden, a 31-20 Wildcats lead turned into just a three-point lead after the Pride went on a 13-5 run. But Kentucky proceeded to score 12 unanswered points to end the half, negating any sort of earlier challenge from Hofstra.
Then, Kentucky opened the second half with a 19-6 run, which essentially put the game away with about 15 minutes left in the game. While the Cats got out of Brooklyn with a 23-point victory, there appeared to still be a bit of uneasiness from Coach John Calipari that we will get toward the end of this post.
But first, here is what they’re saying...
UK wins 96-73 over Hofstra. Vegas spread was 26 pts at tip-off. My prediction was 25. Gotta work on my game. Close doesn't get it done.— Oscar Combs (@wildcatnews) December 11, 2016
Kentucky led 96-69 until a Hofstra player hit a three and got fouled in the game’s final 34 seconds. I’m sure that final shot left some betting fans who took the Cats a little unhappy to say the least.
Winning locker room. pic.twitter.com/ngCcUzjrhs— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) December 11, 2016
That doesn’t look like a team that is celebrating. Not that defeating Hofstra will ever be a huge victory for Kentucky, but I do think this photo is rather telling of the post-game mood. If I could meme this picture, it would probably be something along the lines of, “we’ve got a ways to go.”
Kentucky ended up shooting 51.4 percent. Hofstra shot 33.8.— John Clay (@johnclayiv) December 11, 2016
It’s obviously encouraging to see your team shoot the ball well. But I believe Cal said later that this Kentucky team is not going to make a deep run in March by relying on its shooting. It’s safe to say these Cats have been streaky and we should expect that to be the trend throughout this season.
Hofstra coach: told Cal after game UK can win it all. They could be cutting down the nets.— Jerry Tipton (@JerryTipton) December 11, 2016
No disrespect to the Hofstra Coach, but a program like Hofstra schedules a team like Kentucky so its coach can make these types of comments praising the superior program and coach in the post-game.
Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich on Kentucky: "The story of that team is not their talent. It's their coach and how he gets them to play so hard."— Alex Forkner (@AlexForknerTCP) December 11, 2016
This comment from the Hofstra coach carries a bit more substance in my opinion, because I believe this statement. Not that I don’t believe Kentucky “could be cutting down the nets,” but that is a much easier statement to make. There is something to be said for the effort this Kentucky team has given in each of its first 10 games. Even if they aren’t exactly where Calipari wants them to be, the fact that they are unselfish and committed to playing their hearts out is a good sign this early in the season.
Monk: We going to be every team's Super Bowl. If we don't bring it, we'll get beat.— Jerry Tipton (@JerryTipton) December 11, 2016
This is another statement that gets repeated each year at Kentucky. But the sooner the freshman accept that each opponent will have the “this is our Super Bowl” mentality, the quicker they realize how important each individual game is moving forward.
Coach Cal says he has some players who are much better in practice than games. "We've got some things to figure out."— CoachCal.com (@CoachCalDotCom) December 11, 2016
I believe this to be a serious issue. And as I pointed out earlier, the effort from these guys is there, it just seems like some of their best judgement is easily altered when they’re placed on a greater stage. But that’s also why Calipari schedules so many big name opponents in the earlier stages of the season, to help prepare a young team for what the future might hold. What is perhaps most frustrating for Cal, is the fact that this seems to be a problem for players who aren’t freshmen.
In two games in NYC this season Isaiah Briscoe has combined for 40 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 turnovers.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) December 11, 2016
What more can you say? The guy likes showing out for his hometown, or at least, his home area.
Here are three takeaways from SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker:
Player of the game
There was a lot of talk this week about how the Wildcats feed off Briscoe’s energy, and he took that to heart again Sunday. The sophomore guard was active on defense from the start and seemed in complete control offensively. He hit his first six shots and scored 15 of his 19 points by halftime.
Briscoe finished 8 of 11 from the field and added 6 assists and 2 rebounds in 32 minutes.
Stat line of the game
Monk made just 1 of 6 3-pointers to start the game, then caught fire and swished three in a row during the Wildcats’ breakaway run. He scored 10 points in a span of 5:55 from late in the first half to early in the second. Monk now has 30 made 3-pointers in his first 10 college games, putting him on pace to chase Jodie Meeks’ school record of 117 made 3-pointers in a single season. At his current rate, Monk would need 39 games to tie that record.
Kentucky was playing with its food early, letting Hofstra hang around deep into the first half. The Pride cut what had been an 11-point lead down to three with 3:39 to go before the break — and then the Wildcats swallowed them whole. UK scored the final 12 points of the first half, including seven straight by Monk, and the first six points of the second.
The blitz didn’t stop there, as the Cats hit their first eight shots after intermission and extended the run to 21-1, then 26-3 and eventually 31-6 to give them a 28-point lead with 14:53 to go. In less than nine total minutes of game clock, Kentucky robbed Hofstra of all hope.
And elaborating on Coach Cal’s post-game comments, the Lexington Herald-Leader’s John Clay:
“We’re not playing the way we need to play,” he said.
He also said this: “I’m worried”
Coach-speak, you say. Might this be the set-up for Camp Cal, that post-finals/Christmas break stretch when the 20-hour rule need not apply and the coach can all but lock his players into the Craft Center and force them do little else besides practice basketball, eat, sleep and practice more basketball?
“I’ll give them a little time for video (games) and the phone,” Cal said Sunday. “You don’t do that, they’re climbing the walls.”
And yet, before you think this is a case of Calipari playing mind games, know that the coach has a point. Actually, he has several points.
For starters, Kentucky was outrebounded 45-41 Sunday. Sure, in Rokas Gustys, Hofstra boasted the nation’s leading rebounder at 13.5 per game. Gustys grabbed eight boards Sunday and the Pride still outworked UK on the glass.
One story that got lost in the shuffle Sunday was that Deron Powers, one of Hofstra’s top players, was actually on the Hampton team that was a 16 seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament that faced then-34-0 Kentucky. As deep as this UK team appears to be, it still doesn’t measure up to the depth of that memorable 2014-15 squad.
Powers, a grad transfer who was on the Hampton team that played Kentucky in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, made nine of 11 free throws and scored 18 points.
Afterward, when Powers was asked to compare that Kentucky team with this Kentucky team, he sided with the 2015 version, the one that won 38 straight before losing in the Final Four. It had more depth, he said. (“More depth than these guys?” asked Mihalich.) And that 2015 team was taller, said Powers.
Because the SEC appears to once again be the weakest of the five power conferences (and maybe even weaker than a couple of mid-major conferences), both the North Carolina and Louisville games will be huge for the Cats in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding in March.
For Kentucky to win both of those games, it’s going to take an incredible amount of effort, focus, and maybe even a little bit of luck from both its coaches and players alike. That begins this week in Las Vegas when the Kentucky Wildcats face the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Tip-off for the game on Dec. 17th is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. EST.