In a game that is historically sluggish, Kentucky came out hot and energized in its annual pre-Thanksgiving appearance in Rupp Arena. It helped that Cleveland State was down some of its key players, but I’m not sure any of the sidelined Vikings could’ve prevented Malik Monk’s 19-point first half that put the game out of reach early as the home team coasted to a 101-70 victory.
Monk finished with 23 to lead the Wildcats in scoring, although the opposing Rob Edwards took game-high honors with 24 to lead the opposition. De’Aaron Fox chipped in another 16 with 11 assists for his second career double-double, only to be matched with another double-double from Wenyen Gabriel, who had 10 points and 10 boards in a career-high 27 minutes.
More observations and highlights from the game…
Shooting will be Kentucky’s problem, they said; but will it?
It’s way too early to eliminate any shooting concerns for the season, but today Malik Monk silenced all of the critics of his team’s outside shooting. Monk hit his first four three-point attempts, all in the first half, en route to his 23 points in the game. It was Monk’s second game shooting over 60 percent from outside the arc; the other, of course, being the 7-for-11 night in the Garden last week.
After the game, John Calipari said, “I know he can shoot threes. But I don’t want him to settle for that… There’s not, whether it’s Steph Curry or whoever, guys that are volume three-point shooters, they will go through spells where they miss. They will have one of those 2-12 games from the three. They do. I don’t care who you are. So my thing is, don’t make that the only part of your game.”
Cal wants to see him drive the ball inside and get his points there.
De’Aaron Fox is a star.
16 points, 11 assists, four rebounds, two steals, one block and only two turnovers for the Kentucky point guard. He’s still cold from outside (0-2 today) but Fox is a do-it-all point that is, dare I say, putting up Tyler Ulis numbers.
I wouldn’t say that without proof to back it up…
|Through Five Games|
And to think, Ulis broke the assist record with that start.
Briscoe did not play today.
John Calipari decided to keep Briscoe on the bench and in street clothes to nurse the back injury he suffered in the Duquesne game. The injury occurred during the hard foul on the fastbreak that almost led to fisticuffs, you know the one.
Briscoe could’ve played today if he really had to, but Cal noted that a player who is not 100 percent simply cannot keep up with the way the team runs, and Briscoe is more like 75 percent.
“He’ll take today and tomorrow off and see if he can go Friday.”
Kentucky plays so unselfish, which is so uncommon for such a young team.
25 assists on 38 baskets today for the Cats. That’s some really unselfish basketball. Most of those assists came on lobs or passes inside for easy buckets, which reminds me, did you see that lob from Monk to Fox in the beginning of the game????
Fox hit his head on the backboard. He’s a point guard.
Mychal Mulder making the case for more playing time.
There’s no bigger Mychal Mulder fan in Big Blue Nation than me, so I was excited to see him drop 13 points for a second consecutive game. Mulder entered this one ahead of Dominique Hawkins for that fourth guard spot, at least according to Cal, and he played like a guy trying to keep it that way as he hit three three-pointers (more than he had all last year) and pulled in a couple of rebounds on the other end.
Mulder’s problem, and what’s keeping him off the court, is his inability to prevent baskets defensively. For all the good he’s done offensively, the points he allows kills him on the other end. Coach Cal mentioned that inability to defend afterward, saying, “Mychal, man, he’s getting a chance. Everyone on this team and in the gym wants Mychal to play. But if they’re shooting layups on you all day, you are not playing. So you better figure it out. Stay in front of somebody, get some confidence defensively.”
Dominique Hawkins’ right knee will be okay.
“He’s got buzzard’s luck. He’ll be fine,” Cal said of his senior guard, who suffered a right knee contusion in the first half.
Wenyen Gabriel is a hustler, baby, I just want you to know. (*Pharrell voice*)
As I mentioned up top, Wenyen Gabriel recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 boards. The kid’s got an MKG-like motor and he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his effort plays, and he makes a lot of them.
Most Kentucky fans want to see Derek Willis out there representing the Bluegrass as the senior leader and the team’s go-to shooter, but Gabriel is beginning to separate himself from Willis for that four spot, at least in my opinion. Gabriel does so much and I think he’ll be a regular in the starting lineup by SEC play.
I say that with nothing but love for Willis, who was good in his own right today with seven points and five rebounds. I don’t mean to knock him in my praise for Gabriel; I just think Gabriel is that good and only getting better each game.
With each “meh” performance by Bam Adebayo, I get more and more excited for the day he blows up and murders everything in his path.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Bam was in foul trouble.
The Kentucky big man just can’t catch a break when it comes to the whistle. He’s getting the Shaq treatment for simply being too big and too strong inside. That will change, but for now we’re having to settle for only getting him in doses, and that’s still not a bad thing.
Towards the end of the game, Cal had his players forcing the rock inside to Bam so he could get some looks. It’s fine right now, but there will be a day when everything clicks and he becomes unstoppable. I remember the exact moment when it happened for Karl-Anthony Towns and I’m salivating over the moment it happens for Bam Adebayo. Beast mode will soon engage.
Until then, let’s pat him on the back for how hard he plays when he’s not getting the ball. This tweet from his high school coach summed up Bam’s selflessness, perfectly:
Bam goes multiple minutes without a touch, and NEVER lets up with his effort. That's part of what makes him so special. Just wants to win.
— Brandon Clifford (@Coach_Clifford) November 23, 2016
Oh yeah — he had only 14 points and seven rebounds in this one. Only. Could’ve been much, much worse for the Vikings.
I hope Kentucky’s opponents are enjoying early-season Bam right now. Those who will see him around late January or February won’t be nearly as lucky. Blood will be spilled.
Some quick-hitters then we’ll wrap it up…
— Malik Monk has more three-pointers through five games than any freshman in school history.
— The Cats’ 56 points at the half were the most in a first half since scoring 57 against Arkansas in 2010.
— Kentucky covered the spread by half of a point.
— The team will serve Thanksgiving dinner through the Salvation Army tomorrow afternoon and then it’s back at Rupp Arena for UT Martin on Friday.