Kentucky opened its 2020-2021 season with a win in front of a socially-distanced crowd at Rupp Arena by defeating in-state foe Morehead State by a score of 81-45.
Four Wildcats were in double-figures in the scoring column with Brandon Boston leading the way for the Wildcats with 15. Terrence Clarke and Devin Askew added 12 each, while Davion Mintz pitched in 10 points in a balanced scoring effort.
Isaiah Jackson and Cam’Ron Fletcher added nine each, nearly crossing the double-digit scoring threshold.
The Wildcats put together a solid performance on the defensive end, holding the Eagles to 34% shooting.
In what’s been a weird season, it was good to see the Wildcats hit the floor for the first time this season, and we got a good preview of what can be expected moving forward. Boston has the ability to be this team’s go-to scorer. Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, and Olivier Sarr showed their defensive potential, and it was good to see Askew and Mintz put together solid performances.
Here’s the recap of what John Calipari and some of the Kentucky players had to say after the game.
On what was most encouraging early on …
“Well, what I was encouraged about is we looked like an organized basketball team. Ten guys, never played together, never played for me, we went 40 days of torture, yet they came out and, again, I’ve got to get, I got two or three guys that have to create new habits, and if I can get that, I like this group. We’re going to have to figure out, what if they have a really fast and quick point guard? Who is guarding that guy? We need to throw it to the post more. Is it Olivier (Sarr) or is it Isaiah (Jackson)? I love what I saw from (Cam’Ron Fletcher) today because he just plays hard. Davion (Mintz) did what I wanted him to do, make shots. That’s what you do. Make free throws. (Brandon Boston Jr.) missed all kind of shots, but I’m telling you, he fought on defense and he tried. We just, we got to be a better rebounding team, but that’s going to come with time.”
On the debut of redshirt-freshman guard Dontaie Allen …
“I thought Dontaie did fine. He’s just behind some other players. So, but he’s going to get his chances. And I told these guys, ‘Every one of you, just like every year I’ve been here, will have a chance. Will you be ready for your chance, or do you instead of fight, it’s flight? Or is it delusion and I’m going to blame and’—you’re going to get a chance. Like (Cam’Ron Fletcher) has not done what he did today in the game. That’s why he didn’t go in earlier. But now, what he just did today, we’re going to push him in there. Terrence (Clarke), I thought Terrence played well. And Devin (Askew), Devin’s going to be fine. He’s got to create shots for his teammates. They will create shots for him. This isn’t, ‘I’m just going to go on five guys and try to shoot the ball.’ And again, some of that is just ‘how I played in high school.’ Well, okay, now, here’s how we need you to play. I thought he played pretty good. Had a few turnovers he didn’t need to have, but they got him threes, he made some shots. That’s what we need him to do, so they know, if you leave him open, he’s making it.”
On the atmosphere at Rupp Arena …
“Here’s what I would say: You know, I don’t know the protocol, but I know our university, from the president to our athletic director, has done an unbelievable job. The kids are disciplined and that’s why we have kind of gone through this, including on our campus, like we have. It’s incredible. I think now, how do we do the same with fans? Is there some way we can test where we can have 30%, where more fans can come and they feel comfortable coming because they’re tested? How do we do that? I don’t know. I don’t have time. I’m trying to get a basketball team together. But what was, today was pretty fun. I would say this, when we came in yesterday and I saw all the cards with people’s faces on it, the team went nuts. They said, ‘Did these people buy these? These people are crazy.’ And then they went up there and sat with them. We put it out. And I looked and I said, ‘Look, what a great idea by our university, by the athletic administration.’ Here’s what I would say now: Why don’t we try to sell the thing out with that? And I said, going forward, Ellen (Calipari) and I will match whatever money they raise. So if you want to buy a thousand-dollar seat on the floor, they have those. If you want to buy a $350 seat in the first row with your kids and all that, $70 seat deeper than that. Ellen and I, we’re going to match whatever you pay, and that way, again, help the athletic department, who came up with great idea. I love it. And it’s funny, I just hope those people got to see themselves when it was shown on TV. Hopefully, they went and did a pan of the place so everybody got to see themselves.”
On the UK debut of senior forward Olivier Sarr …
“Well, he still has some habits. I got to get him to just shoot a straight jump hook. The 15-footer he has, but when we throw that thing to the post, you can’t step through step, step and—you won’t get that off in our league. The jump hook, you’re seven foot tall, just do it. And if you miss it, go rebound your miss. The other guy that played, again, what I keep saying to him, do what the game is telling you to do. (Brandon Boston Jr.) didn’t really force anything. He missed some shots. Not one was a forced bad shot. Not one. Can you imagine? And everybody’s saying he’s going to lead the nation in scoring. He didn’t come out here to just to, ‘I’ve got to score. I got to get back.’ He didn’t play that way. I was so proud of him. I wish he would have played a little better offensively, made a couple more baskets. But Terrence (Clarke), I mean, the people back in Boston watching what he did, he cramped up today because he’s never played that hard for that long. He cramped up. Oh, that’s not why. Oh, yeah it is. Your body looks at you and says, ‘What in the world are you doing? You’ve never have done this before to me.’ But again, Isaiah (Jackson), I thought fought and did good stuff and you see they’re basketball players, but we got a ways to go. There were so many open shots that we gave up that they missed, that they were open. We got to look at the tape. Our pick-and-roll defense, bigs didn’t stay long enough, guards didn’t fight. I thought we scrambled pretty good. I thought we had tags on the weak side. The only reason that we trapped is I wanted to see if we could figure out how to rotate. And we did. We did a pretty good job. We went big-to-big, which I don’t like because it puts both of our big guys on their big guy and any rebound they’re going to get if they throw it out and shoot it, but I just did it to mix up the game a little bit.”
On the debut of freshman guard Terrence Clarke and the status of freshman forward Isaiah Jackson’s ankle …
“When he is in that frame of mind, Terrence, the game does come easy for him because he can get wherever he wants. Most cases it’s not enough. I got to add something, like right in front of our bench where he walked. Why would you do that? All you had to do was take it and drive like (Brandon Boston Jr.) did and go right down the middle and shoot it. Not enough. A lot of these kids, it’s one of the things they, you’re creating a habit of attacking downhill. You’re not messing with the ball. When you mess with the ball, it gives the defense time to get in. You see gaps and you take that gap, you get the ball by the man. He’s learning. It’s a new habit. Isaiah did tweak his ankle. He was limping a little bit, but I would say he’s okay.”
On the UK debut of graduate student guard Davion Mintz …
“Yeah, the only play I got, went crazy about is we pressed and he was kind of behind his man and they threw it to his man. And the way they were scoring is we were fouling and giving them free throws. Don’t, don’t do that. And he pushed up and bodied a guy. I said, ‘You’re a senior, you know better than that. The guy caught it, now just play him.’ There are many games we’re going to play that that could be the difference in the game, free throws. We’re supposed to be that team that goes and shoots—Terrence (Clarke) missed free throws today. He’s a good free-throw shooter, I don’t know. I got so mad I screamed at him on the other one. He missed three in a row. Are you kidding me? What are you doing? And I screamed at him, Make the free throw. And he made it. But again, Davion, for this team, you see how important he is to this team, and a veteran presence, and he can, we can now flip him in and let Terrence play some point guard. So it’s kind of a good thing and he’s, I met with him today to just talk and he said, ‘Coach, I trust you.’ Last couple guys that told me that it ended up kind of working well for Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) and Immanuel Quickley.”
On the rebounding of freshman guard Brandon Boston Jr. …
“Well, we need our bigs to rebound better. But what I like is when a guard rebounds, they know they’re allowed to bring it up and go. So if it’s a 1, 2, 3 and they rebound, just go. And if you notice, I put him on the baseline a bunch versus zone and man because of that. It’s a way of getting easy baskets, especially when you go 0-for-4 from the three. I’m looking at you on the screen. That’s why I’m looking that way.”
On the cohesiveness of 10 new players …
“It really does, but, and they played zone. So now they’re playing man and zone and pressing. I mean, you got to be organized. A couple times guys broke off and didn’t do what we asked them to do and we end up throwing balls away and I had to stop them, Now, why did you do that? Now, you were supposed to do this, but you chose to do that. Why did you do that? And those are, again, guys being engaged with us and understanding, but the reality of it is what you said, we looked like an organized basketball team. Can you imagine? It’s been 40 days. Thirty practices in 42 days, and this is what we look like, so I’m happy. Now, when we start talking all these next games we’re playing, I did these guys a disservice. I did my team a disservice. But I thought Keion (Brooks Jr.) would be playing. So I thought, you know what, we got some veterans and young, we’ll be fine. Without Keion, it makes this schedule totally a different deal, and basically not really fair for these guys. No one’s doing what we’re doing. We’re playing all these teams from here until we start our league. And when you got young guys that are — young guys are fragile now. They’re 18 acting like this. Yeah, get hit in the mouth twice and all of a sudden you’re like, oh, you see guys playing like that then. And they’re young. So I’m going to have be as positive and patient as I’ve ever been and not, we didn’t have exhibition to get going, we didn’t have some games, three or four or five games that we should have. And then we start and we play those five. No. No, we got nine games and seven of them are ridiculous. And so it’s going to be a tough road. And I would tell the fans, don’t you be mad at these kids. Don’t be mad at them. Be mad at me. Then you start saying, all you out there, ‘We want a stronger schedule. Why don’t we play everybody?’ Okay, now we’re playing everybody and you’ll see the result. And that same guy said, ‘Look, I want us to play good. I’m fine with that record because I’m the one that wants them to play all these tough games. I’m not getting mad at these kids. I’ll get mad at (John Calipari) for playing that kind of schedule. What was he thinking?’ Instead of being tested for corona, I should have been tested for drugs or something.”
On the emotional takeaways of tonight’s performance …
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll send all of you the scrimmage tape and you will say, how did that team on Sunday play like that and then come out on Wednesday and play like this? If I thought you wouldn’t share it with all our opponents, I would really do that. No, I’ll be fine. But, you know, this has been a tough four, five days because Brad (Calipari) was coming home. Brad was going to play in Rupp Arena. Now, we’re still going to schedule the game (versus Detroit Mercy) for the middle of December, so he’ll be back. But, you know, I was looking forward to having my son on the other team, coaching my team and cheering for him. I mean, it would have—you know, and then the one team, listen, there are four or five other teams I would say I would be happy for them to have to cancel, but not Detroit. That’s the team I wanted to play. Not because I thought we could win. Mike (Davis’) kid (Antoine Davis) may have gotten 50 (points) and Brad may have gotten 30 and we may have lost. But it was my son. And like I said, this, this going forward, we’re going to have Thanksgiving tomorrow, we’ll do video of this game and then we’re moving on, we got a couple days to get ready, you know, Friday, Saturday for a really hard game on Sunday. And then we got another one, two days later that’s ridiculous. And we’re going to try and really try my best to have us travel on game days. I just don’t want to be in a hotel in a city, food and workers and just too much. Our bus is going to deadhead to wherever we go. When that plane lands, we get on a bus that we know the bus driver’s tested, we know it’s a sterile bus and that’s all we jump on. And then we get back on that bus and get on the plane with shields and masks. And I just want to keep these kids safe. They deserve—listen, these kids want to play. And everybody would think, well, Cal, you want to play—well what’s the difference whether I’m coaching or not? I’m fine. I owe it to these kids to give them every opportunity to have this season and play. I’m doing everything I can. And they are doing everything they can. See, when you have a team like this, guys on this team have something at stake. Why would they break our bubble and hurt themselves and their teammates? Why would they do that? I mean, they got too much at stake. And that’s why I said, as we’re playing the schedule we’re playing, every other team’s probably like ours. Kids are going to do everything they can to stay safe, because they got a lot at stake personally. Happy for our fans, too, today, the ones that came.”
On tonight’s maximum attendance …
“Guys, let’s get it to 10,000 (fan cutouts). When I said it, we’ll match the money, I’m hoping no one buys any. But I’m saying, why don’t we go and let’s get 10,000 and have people say, ‘Only at Kentucky.’ And they’re 70 bucks. Christmas presents. Give them away for Christmas. Put your kids in the stands. We’ll do some kind of surround so that everybody will get their picture, so you can see it. And then we’re going to get the cameras from—it will be all over ESPN—like these dudes are crazy in this town. Buy them. Buy them. Let’s get 10,000.”
On areas of success during tonight’s game and ways he can improve going forward …
“I feel like today was a really good game, great team win. I think just seeing the things I’ve seen on the court, we are a great team, but everyone has to play the full court and full defense. Whenever you take leads or whatever the case may be and you have a lot of people that are wide open, pullups, floaters, stuff like that. For me, just finding wide open guys or whoever it is, that’s just what I try to do, I feel like areas of improvement we can just rebound more and stuff like that. I mean, this is our first game and I think everyone was very anxious and ready to play, just getting that first game under our belt and looking forward to Sunday.”
On the atmosphere of Rupp Arena following his first game …
“Just knowing that we have a lot of supporters and a support system here, I mean I think that I knew that coming in here that Big Blue, you have the best fan base probably in the world right now and just knowing that they’re there, even in spirit I guess with the cutouts, it’s just lovely. I mean when we look in the fan section it feels like people is there. I mean it’s just fun.”
On Coach Calipari’s vision as a guard in his system …
“I think it’s just with the flow of the offense, like I said we have a great team so the ball shouldn’t even stop really. That’s one of the things I’m trying to learn right now, like Cal says, ‘I don’t like to dribble or whatever the case may be, but I want to get downhill.’ So, I can make the defense make a move so I can make my next move after that. I think from the beginning of coming here and tonight to now, I’ve definitely improved a lot, as you can see, I’m just trying to attack guys as quick as possible. I still have some turnovers. I tried to turn down a screen. I kind of just went off the screen and I’m still learning but, I feel like I’ve learned a lot since I’ve gotten here and I appreciate Coach Cal for getting on me because obviously as you can see today, when you get downhill, like you said, I can get to places to create shots.”
On their improvements from the scrimmage on Sunday …
“Honestly, we had a team meeting after the scrimmage. Say the same, but I think just that scrimmage I was kind of tired and just ready to play, as a team we’re just ready to play as a team against other opponents. I mean from that scrimmage, just those two bigs that we had just locked in as a team, kind of stayed next to each other and told each other that we have our backs and whatever happens we are going to be there for each other. That was the main thing we wanted to hit on after the scrimmage and we went out today and just played as hard as we can, that’s just one of the main things we have to do. We’re not worried about anything but ourselves and just playing as hard as we can so coming out today that was our main objective and just proud of my team for getting a dub today.”
On how his play has improved from practice …
“It was game time, so I generally just run, and I knew I had to play hard, and everything just fell into place.”
On being overlooked by media…
“I don’t care about attention for real, I just play hard and play dirty. That’s just me.”
On the atmosphere during the game …
“It was good. For the first game with my team, I just wanted to go out there and have fun, I wanted everyone else on the team to have fun. I just wanted to get the win.”
On the team’s most recent scrimmage …
“We have been playing against each other for five months, everybody knows the plays. So playing against a team that didn’t know the plays was just different.”
On developing a team rhythm …
“Just do what the game tells you to do and everything will fall into place. What (John Calipari) says, do what the game tells you to do. Don’t force anything.”
On the absence of Keion Brooks Jr. …
“We just go hard. We are just a team that fights. That’s it.”
On what will define the team …
“A good defensive team. That is what Coach Cal is on us most about, defense. He knows we have a lot of good offensive players, but with our defense, we can win games for real. He loves defense.”
On facing another team for the first time …
“We played a team. We have been playing with each other for months, and everybody knew the plays. The team we played didn’t know what we were going to do, so we executed.”
On John Calipari’s emphasis to “fight” …
“Don’t worry about scoring or anything else. Just worry about fighting and everything else will fall into place. When you’re playing hard, stuff just falls in line.”
Now, here are the postgame notes and milestones from UK:
Team Records and Series Notes
- This was the season opener for both teams.
- Now in its 119th season of men’s basketball, Kentucky is 98-20 in season openers (no season in 1952-53).
- Kentucky leads the series 11-0, including 9-0 in Lexington.
- Next: Kentucky hosts Richmond on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the finale of the Bluegrass Showcase. The game will be televised on ESPN.
- Other than walk-ons Brennan Canada and Riley Welch, every other Wildcat appearing tonight made his first game appearance for Kentucky.
- Brandon Boston Jr. had game highs with 15 points and seven rebounds, earning a team-best 32 minutes.
- Devin Askew and Terrence Clarke each had 12 points and paced UK in assists with four. Clarke also had a game-high three steals.
- Davion Mintz tallied 10 points and had a good shooting night with a 2-of-3 performance from long range and all four free throws.
- Isaiah Jackson and Cam’Ron Fletcher each scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting.
- Jackson also swatted a team-high-tying two shots.
- Olivier Sarr had eight points on 4-of-6 shooting with a team-high-tying two blocks.
Coach John Calipari
- Beginning his 12th season in Lexington, Calipari is now 331-77 at UK.
- Beginning his 29th season as a head coach, he has a 776-217 all-time on-court record.
- UK is 268-44 vs. Associated Press unranked foes under Calipari.
- UK is 11-1 in season openers under Calipari and 12-0 in home openers.
- Kentucky limited Morehead State to 45 points. The Wildcats are 78-0 under Calipari when keeping the opponent to 55 or fewer points.
- It’s the fewest points by a UK opponent since a 79-44 win over Abilene Christian in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
- It’s the fewest points allowed in a season opener since an 85-45 win over Grand Canyon in 2014-15.
- Morehead shot 34% from the field. UK is 203-19 (.914) under Calipari when keeping the opponent to 40% or less.
- Four Wildcats scored in double figures and seven had at least eight points.
- Kentucky led by as many as 39 points during the game. UK is 282-8 (.972) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any time in the contest.
In the First Half
- The starting lineup consisted of freshmen Devin Askew, Brandon Boston Jr., Terrence Clarke and Isaiah Jackson, along with senior transfer Olivier Sarr.
- Davion Mintz and Lance Ware were UK’s first substitutes at the 14:35 mark.
- Kentucky never trailed, although there was a tie at 2-2.
- Jackson got the first points of the season with a jump shot and tallied seven points, plus a blocked shot, in the first 6:09 of the game before exiting with his second foul.
- Mintz made the first 3-pointer of the season at 12:53, giving UK its first double-digit lead of the season at 15-4.
- Kentucky led by as many as 20 points at 43-23 before settling for a 45-26 lead at intermission. Clarke played the entire half and led the Cats with 10 points.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky opened the second half with the original starting lineup.
- The Wildcats lengthened the lead to as many as 39 points at 81-42.