As Malik Monk was throwing down a variety of exciting dunks during Kentucky’s open practice prior to their NCAA Tournament opener in Indianapolis against Northern Kentucky on Thursday afternoon, Isaiah Briscoe was smiling and telling assistant coach Tony Barbee that he can knock down more 3-pointers with a quicker, timelier release.
If the ‘Cats are feeling any pressure with three freshmen and an experienced sophomore carrying the load, they certainly aren’t showing it.
“There is no pressure at all,” Monk said prior to Friday’s practice when asked about the environment on Friday night when Kentucky takes the floor against their fellow in-state school. “Big Blue Nation are the best fans in college basketball. They travel everywhere with us so we know that we are going to have a great crowd and we’re going to be alright.”
Monk’s statements felt quite accurate, as Kentucky had the largest audience inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday afternoon in Indianapolis.
Lotta blue in the house for Kentucky's open practice. pic.twitter.com/9ubZtJUdPU— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) March 16, 2017
Kentucky’s had some great success in the state of Indiana’s capital in recent years, logging two wins over Louisville and Michigan to advance to the 2014 Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium, followed by a 72-40 shellacking of Kansas in the 2015 State Farm Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We love playing in Indianapolis,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said during his pre-open practice press conference on Thursday. “I mean, I love playing games up here, tournament games or games in general. This is a neat city.”
Not only did Calipari throw a minor, unintentional jab at Indiana University (who had their own eventful Thursday with the termination of head coach Tom Crean) for not playing Kentucky in Indiana’s capital anymore, he also mentioned that Indianapolis has some Pittsburgh in the form of Primanti Brothers, while also suggesting putting french fries on one of their sandwiches.
(This can be confirmed by yours truly as something delicious.)
Dillon Pulliam wins the open practice half-court challenge pic.twitter.com/Vx701AorBx— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 16, 2017
At one point during the pre-open practice press conference, Calipari was pitching for more Canadians — specifically in Toronto — to come to Kentucky after senior Mychal Mulder was asked a question about his ties to Canada and the level of Canadian basketball rising in recent years, along with his friendship with current Denver Nuggets guard and bow-and-arrow shooter Jamal Murray last season.
If this team’s feeling any sense of pressure, they certainly aren’t showing it.
“We keep the same attitude against anybody, even if we were playing against a middle school team,” Bam Adebayo said before Thursday’s open practice. “We keep the same attitude, go out there and play defense, play hard, talk and have fun.”
Northern Kentucky isn’t a middle school team, as they’ve won 10 of their last 11 games entering the Round of 64, but the ‘Cats look focused, loose and prepped for a potential long stay in the NCAA Tournament.