Kentucky opened the season with a 87-64 win over Stephen F. Austin, but it was way more physical than anyone would have thought. The Lumberjacks did their best to slow the Cats down with fouls, and, for a good portion of the game, succeeded, but in the end, Kentucky’s talent and speed won out. Let’s break it down.
1. De’Aaron Fox is already breaking records
Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo may have garnered more preseason accolades, but De’Aaron Fox proved tonight he’s the most important freshman on the roster. In his first game as a Wildcat, Fox had 12 points and 12 assists, becoming only the fourth freshmen to get a double-double in his debut in the John Calipari Era. Even better, Fox broke Kyle Macy’s 1977 record for the most assists by a Kentucky player in a college debut. As well as Fox played, Calipari still found things to nitpick, like his defense.
“If he catches up defensively, he’ll play every minute he can be out there,” Cal said. “But he was really good today. He’s just so good with the ball, he’s long, he can finish around the goal, he’s a terrific passer. He’s special.”
He showed us just how special on this behind-the-back pass to Malik Monk for a three:
Isaiah Briscoe was also great, leading the team with 17 points off 6-11 shooting, including a THREE. Oh yes, a three.
2. Fouls, fouls, fouls
You knew it was going to be a long night when Bam Adebayo picked up two fouls in the first minute. There were 27 fouls in the first half alone between the two teams, and Adebayo, Fox, Monk, and Briscoe all picked up two in the first 20 minutes. At times, Stephen F. Austin managed to slow the game down to a crawl with their fouls, picking up 32 in total. Bam was especially hindered by foul trouble, finishing with only 5 points and 1 rebound in 15 minutes. Calipari warned Bam before the game to keep his fouling in check, but tonight, Stephen F. Austin had his number.
“Bam, we talked for a week about not fouling. He is so big, when he moves, he fouls,” Cal said. “And I told him, you just got to be just be aware, you got to have high hands, you can’t be pushing in the back, you can’t have hands on people, you can’t go after a block you had no business getting.”
Even in limited minutes, Bam gave us this great dunk at the start of the second half:
Bam is back ðŸ’¥ðŸ’¥ðŸ’¥ pic.twitter.com/hB3N8ygfl6
– Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) November 12, 2016
3. Kentucky got outrebounded
The stat that upset Calipari the most? Stephen F. Austin outrebounded Kentucky 36-28. A lot of that was probably because Bam was on the bench in foul trouble, but in the 15 minutes Bam was in, he only had one rebound.
“Should be a better rebounding team,” Cal lamented, running down the stat sheet. “We got outrebounded by eight rebounds. They outrebounded us.”
Calipari called out Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe, and Derek Willis for their lack of rebounds, and vowed the team will focus on the boards in Sunday’s game. (Sorry, Canisius)
4. Defense (or lack thereof) may have upset Cal the most
Kentucky’s youth showed at times tonight, with the Lumberjacks pushing the Cats around on more than one occasion. Calipari was especially unhappy with his team’s efforts on the defensive end, to the point he said tonight was a much-needed wakeup call.
“That was like, men, and we’ve got children,” Cal said on his radio show, chalking his team’s lapses in effort to discipline. “Wakeup call.”
I think Calipari’s exaggerating a little bit (never!), but his point is, even if they’re five-stars, freshmen gonna freshmen.
5. Calipari even used a zone!
Did you notice pigs flying past your window with about ten minutes left in the second half? Calipari did something he rarely ever does and used a zone.
“It looked good, didn’t it? I put that in yesterday. It was pretty good,” Cal said in his press conference, adding later on his radio show, “I just wanted to look at it because we’re pretty active and we’re long. I want us to get good at it because we’re going to be playing zone.”
I’m setting the over/under on how many games Cal uses zone in again at 5.
6. Isaac Humphries played great
With Bam on the bench, Isaac Humphries stepped up and ably filled the void. In 19 minutes, Isaac had 9 points and 8 rebounds, proving he can handle the load when Bam (inevitably) gets into foul trouble.
“With these guards, I don’t need you to drive the ball. I need you to finish,” Calipari said of his message to Isaac. “He’s in better shape than he’s ever been in his life, he’s bouncy, he now can guard pick and roll better. He’s in the post, he can continue to move his feet. He has better discipline than Sacha and Bam because he’s older.”
7. Derek came out on fire
Derek Willis was the only starter not to pick up two fouls in the first half, which Calipari said was not a coincidence.
“We started him based on the fact that I just didn’t feel comfortable starting the first game out of the gate with four freshmen on the court,” Cal said. “He proved me right.”
Derek finished with 15 points and 5 rebounds in 31 minutes, and although both he and Calipari nitpicked his performance on the glass, Cal said he was proud of how far Derek has come.
“I’m so proud of Derek Willis, ” Cal said. “He’s the first one at practice and he’s the last one to leave. That went from, I blow the whistle, we’re done with practice and he would run to the door. I would say, ‘Derek can I talk to you guys first before you leave?’ Now, he’s on a mission.”
8. Malik Monk is great, but he’s gotta rebound
Monk can still jump out of the gym on some plays, but Calipari wants him to use that elevation on the glass, not just on dunks.
“Malik ends up with no rebounds?,” Cal complained. “Come on. Come on. If you can put your head on the rim, you can go in and rebound the ball.”
9. Wenyen Gabriel continues to be the surprise of the season
Fox is great, Derek’s playing well, and Isaac’s impressing, but to me, the surprise of the season so far is Wenyen Gabriel. When he came to Kentucky, most believed the lanky freshmen had endless upside but a long way to go on the offensive end, but man, he looked good tonight, especially off the bench in the first half. Wenyen had 10 points in 11 minutes in the first half, and apparently proved to Calipari he needs to play more.
“I thought Wenyen was terrific, too, by the way,” Cal said. “I thought Wenyen played well. Could have played more. Probably should have played him more.”
10. Even ugly, a win is a win, which gets a shimmy from Antoine Walker
The former Cat made his SEC Network debut tonight as a studio analyst, and, in what I’m hoping becomes a pattern, did his trademark shimmy after the Cats won:
– Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) November 12, 2016