After a jarring loss to UCLA and four long days of reflection, Kentucky bounced back in a big way tonight, beating Valparaiso 87-63. It wasn’t the most exciting of games, but it was nice to see the Cats get back to doing what they do best: run fast, score, and win the game. Bam led all scorers with 16 points, followed by Malik Monk with 15, Derek Willis with 12, and Isaiah Briscoe with 10.
Let’s break it down.
1. Kentucky clicked into gear early
They didn’t exactly sprint out of the gate, but it didn’t take the Cats long to warm up. With the score tied at four two and a half minutes in, Kentucky went on a 21-0 run, their biggest of the season, reminding us why we love this group so much.
“Was it that many points in a row?” Valpo’s head coach Matt Lottich said when asked about UK’s run. “Sure felt like it. Yes, they got us uncomfortable. They sped us up, I think we took a lot of quick shots, which is very uncharacteristic of us.”
“I think their best offense, honestly, is transition,” Lottich said, summing it up quite nicely.
Kentucky started the second half in similar fashion, going on 21-8 run to pad the lead.
2. Defense was better
Valparaiso is no slouch. The Crusaders received votes in the latest AP poll and have a player projected to go in this year’s NBA Draft in Alec Peters (more on him later). After letting UCLA score 97 points, the most by an opponent in the Calipari era, Kentucky clamped down like a team that had been yelled at for for four days, holding Valparaiso to 63 points off 34% shooting and 27% behind the arc.
“The one thing that we didn’t want was them to lose to UCLA,” Lottich said. “I think it definitely refocused their defense. The thing that they have is supreme athleticism. They pressure you all the way up the floor, they don’t make passes easy. They’re very disciplined on the defensive end, very well coached.”
“Our whole point of a team that plays a little bit slower, you have to disrupt that team,” Cal said of Valpo. “UCLA was going to play fast, whatever we did. So you’re pressing them to get into their legs, you’re not pressing them to be disruptive. That’s not what you would do. This team, that’s what we tried to do.”
It worked. Along those same lines…
3. Bam finished at the rim, and by finished I mean dunked
At some point on Saturday, I think every Kentucky fan yelled, “Dunk the ball!” at Bam Adebayo at some point, and he responded today, putting up 16 points on 5-9 from the field and 6-8 from the free throw line. Dunks like this were very welcome:
– Wildcat Dunks (@WildcatDunks) December 8, 2016
Calipari was pleased.
“It’s great to see how he is and what he’s doing because he’s just getting better and better,” Cal said on his radio show of Bam. “If you trap him, it doesn’t effect him.”
4. Alec Peters is good, but Kentucky contained him
Coming in to the game, everyone was worried about Valpo’s Alec Peters, who finished with a game-high 23 points. Kentucky did a good job of shutting Peters — an NBA prospect — down in the first half, rotating defenders, but the second they let up on the intensity in the second half, Peters pounced, all while battling cramps.
“My hope is we were running so fast that he started cramping, because that — we want to fly,” Cal quipped, before adding, “I know how good he is. I grabbed him after and I said, I love watching tape of him play. He just knows how to get shots.”
5. One good surprising stat: blocks
I don’t really consider rim protection one of this squad’s strengths, but they had nine blocks tonight to Valpo’s one. In fact, Kentucky is fourth in the nation in blocks right now with 7.38 per game, which may just mean that the rest of the nation isn’t blocking a lot of shots. Wenyen Gabriel was especially good guarding the rim tonight, swatting three shots, followed by Sacha Killeya-Jones with two blocks.
6. One bad surprising stat: UK had more turnovers than assists
Usually, Kentucky fills up the stat sheet with assists (remember when we had 33 vs. Arizona State?); but in the last two games, the passing hasn’t been quite as good, and it shows on the stat sheet. Verses UCLA, the Cats only had 16 assists, and tonight, they had 15, with 17 turnovers to boot. Kentucky won by 24, so it doesn’t really matter, but still an odd stat nonetheless.
One not surprising stat: Kentucky is 37-5 in games following a loss in the Calipari era.
7. Mychal Mulder made a statement
After not playing at all vs. UCLA, Mychal Mulder made the most of his 16 minutes tonight, finishing with 9 points, 7 rebounds, two assists, and one block. While Mulder’s defense still isn’t great, Calipari said he feels comfortable playing him when Isaiah Briscoe is also on the court.
“Mychal was good,” Calipari said. “What I want to do is have he and Isaiah on the court together because Isaiah makes Mychal comfortable. And Isaiah figures out ways of getting him shots he can make. And Isaiah will talk to him through defense and help him, and he just makes him more comfortable on the court.”
He looked very comfortable on this play:
– Wildcat Dunks (@WildcatDunks) December 8, 2016
8. People other than Malik Monk made threes
Monk has accounted for most of Kentucky’s outside shooting this season and had one tonight, but Kentucky’s three seniors all hit threes tonight, led by Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis with two and Mychal Mulder with one. Brad Calipari got one as well, his first basket in Rupp Arena (aside from exhibitions, his only prior points in Rupp were off free throws).
It’s noting new, but Dominique also played great defense tonight, earning kudos from Calipari.
“Dom goes in and just changed the whole complexion because of how he defended on the ball. And he kind of disrupted what they were doing offensively.”
9. The announcer couldn’t pronounce Bam Adebayo’s name
I’m sure Tom Hart’s a nice guy, but he could not pronounce Bam Adebayo’s name properly during the first half, calling him “Ado-boy-o,” “Atta-boy-o,” “Ada-boy-a,” and every variation in between. Thankfully, someone (hopefully his partner Tony Delk) slipped him a pronunciation guide at halftime, because he seemed to get it right a lot more often in the second 20 minutes.
10. Forget Christmas; Calipari can’t wait for Camp Cal
Calipari seemed pleased with Kentucky’s renewed energy tonight, but he’s really excited to put his team to work during the annual “Camp Cal,” which apparently starts next Wednesday.
“I told them, I can’t wait until finals are over so we can start three-a-days. Get this thing right. They got finals next week. Get through those by Wednesday, and it’s from that, bar the door, right there, let’s go. I said, you got to eat, sleep, video games, I’ll give you a little time for your video games, and then we’re playing basketball.”
“There were signs today that we could be really good,” he concluded.
Just in case anyone needed reminding.