Your University of Kentucky Wildcats were in a fight through 20 minutes of basketball Saturday afternoon, but stepped up in the second half to run away with the ball game. Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State Sun Devils came in off a win against No. 18 Texas A&M and thought they could run with the Wildcats. That was the case for a little while, until UK’s talent and hot-shooting took over.
Jamal Murray led all scorers with 17 points, 12 of which came in UK’s dominant second half. He was helped out by 14 and 7 from Marcus Lee and several other solid efforts from his teammates.
Let’s talk about it, shall we?
Marcus Lee played a hell of a game.
In his second game coming off the bench, Marcus Lee played as well as anyone on the court. He was the energy guy for Kentucky in the second half on both ends of the floor, especially on the defensive side where he blocked five shots for the second consecutive game.
“It’s great knowing that I have such a big impact on my team, vocally and on the court, which is a great thing,” he said after the game.
During his postgame interview with Mike Pratt, Lee said he wants to get back to his high school days when he grabbed 20 rebounds per game. He’s hesitant to let Calipari know that, though, because Cal will then expect him to grab 20 rebounds per game.
Is it time to legitimately worry about Skal Labissiere?
On a day when he needed to man up and play well to get the critics off his back, Skal Labissiere completely disappeared. I, for one, have very little confidence in Labissiere at this point, which still may be more confidence than he has in himself.
Labissiere fouled out after playing only 13 minutes, recording just as many points, rebounds and assists as you and I did. The only things he offered to the game were his five fouls, one block and one turnover.
It has been an ugly four-game stretch since he scored 17 points in Miami. He is averaging 4.5 points, 1.75 rebounds, .5 assits and 1.75 blocks in those games.
Labissiere needs to do what he can against Ohio State and Louisville these next two weeks, then buckle down over Christmas break and figure things out. If he doesn’t come out of Camp Cal an improved player, he will get to know that bench a little more than anyone expected.
Calipari admitted to being “somewhat” worried about Skal, though he understands why it has been a sluggish start for his young big man:
You understand he came from Haiti. He played basketball for a year and a half and then he played church league for two years. He’s never been through any of this. This is all new to him.
Now, he played in a couple games that were more like pickup games. He made some jumpers. He ran up and down. And now there were no men — see he’s playing against men now. The kid he went against was a senior and just bulldozed him, and he couldn’t play against a man. Well, this is all part of it.
Isaiah Briscoe’s second half scoring burst decided the game.
Briscoe scored nine straight points in a three-minute stretch early in the second half, sparking a long run that put Kentucky’s lead out of reach. Those were Briscoe’s only nine points, but that’s all he needed to leave his mark on the game.
What the box score doesn’t show is how well Briscoe defended. He has accepted Coach Cal’s preseason challenge to be the best defender in the country, and he isn’t far from throwing his name in that hat. He is a real problem for opposing ball-handlers and he’s becoming more of a fan favorite with each new game.
Now if only he can start making the freebies.
I’m giving Alex Poythress an unofficial double-double.
Poythress played another great game, and if not for spending the latter part of the first half in the locker room, he likely would’ve recorded his fourth double-double of the season. He had seven points and two rebounds when he went to the back to get his knee checked out and finished the game with 10 points and six rebounds.
He also did this:
This week’s version of Alex Poythress is our favorite version of Alex Poythress.
Derek Willis and his new shaved head played well.
The Kentuckian went 3-for-4 from the field for seven points in 14 minutes in his new buzzcut. One of his best plays of the day was this block that sent Tra Holder’s shot attempt to hell and back.
Willis continues to make his case for more playing time.
Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis still struggling to hit the three-ball.
Murray scored a game-high 17 points, but he still can’t get the long ball to drop consistently. He knocked down two of his six attempts from outside, both in the second half, to help bring his and Ulis’ combined percentage to 30 percent for the game. Ulis went 2-for-7 from outside.
Ulis and Arizona State tied with six assists apiece.
He matched the entire Sun Devils team in assists and they all came in the second half. He also had five rebounds and 12 points.
Kentucky shot 57.7 percent in the second half and put the game out of reach.
After going to the locker room at 31 percent in the first half, the Cats came out hot in the second. Kentucky made 15 of its 26 second half shot attempts to Arizona State’s 31.5 percent, turning that one-point halftime lead into a one-sided game in the end. UK led by as many as 23 in the game.
Other brief notes and observations:
— The rebounding battle was a push. The teams entered the game with positive rebounding margins and tied in this one with 36 each.
— Mychal Mulder came in and hustled. Though his time was limited, Mulder grabbed two big offensive rebounds and his one three-point try rattle out. I hope he gets more opportunities in the future.
— Coach Cal said he was “literally physically ill” to his stomach when he heard Poythress was in the back having his knee checked out. Luckily it ended up being a hyperextension and Poythress returned to start the second half.
— UK has scored at least 72 points in its first 10 games of the season for the first time in 20 years, since the 1995-96 season.
— Jonny David is not afraid to shoot. The walk-on launched a three-pointer the moment he touched the ball in the final minute and tried to get another one off following his missed shot. That’s the attitude all walk-ons should have. Make the most of your seconds.
— Jamal Murray is the first player in school history to hit a three-pointer in his first 10 games.
That Murray kid’s pretty good, huh?