Well, that was fun. Tonight, we got our first look at Kentucky against an outside opponent, and if you didn’t walk away from that game without a shiver of excitement, you must hate basketball. The Cats poured it on the Ottawa Braves 117-58, but at times, it looked like Kentucky might score 150. Let’s break it down.
Jamal Murray messed around and almost got a triple double
Coming in to tonight, Murray was still a bit of a mystery to fans, but not any more. Murray showed he can do it all, putting up a game-high 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists. That’s right, he was only one assist shy of a triple double, which would have only been the second in UK history; however, Calipari pulled him out with three and a half minutes remaining. Gotta keep him hungry, I guess.
Murray excelled in every area of the court tonight, making four threes, some mid-range jumpers and some down low layups. He even cleaned up on the glass, pulling down more rebounds than anyone else on the team. He and Tyler Ulis combined for 39 points, 19 assists, 16 rebounds, five steals and only three turnovers. Would you want your backcourt in anyone else’s hands?
This team can shoot
In the first half, Kentucky made 72% of its shots, and although that average dipped to 60% by the end of the game, it’s clear the Cats can shoot. Ulis and Murray had four threes apiece, but the big guys showed off a shooter’s touch as well. Skal Labissiere continues to impress with his mid-range game and Isaac Humphries drained a 20-footer, along with a hook that has potential to be deadly. Alex Poythress had two threes of his own, showing off a summer of hard work on that jump shot.
Poythress is at about 80%
Marcus Lee got the starting nod over Poythress, who had eight points and six rebounds, but failed to finish on a few drives. After the game, Calipari said he thinks Alex is at about 80% right now, and you could see that fatigue on the court.
“I was trying to just let him play through, but I kept telling him, he’s gotta stay in practice now, stay off the bike and he’s gotta get in game shape,” Cal said. “He is, I’m guessing, 80% of where he needs to be for us to be good.”
On a team searching for toughness, Poythress is the x-factor. If he becomes the “beast” we’ve seen in bits and pieces over the years, Kentucky will be scary good. But, as always with Alex, he’s got to show us.
The pace was blistering
No one told the players this was just an exhibition. The Cats came out and played like their hair was on fire, storming out to a 13-0 lead on their first six possessions. The shot clock has been shortened to 30 seconds this season, but this group flew up and down the court regardless, Calipari using the game as an opportunity to improve the team’s conditioning. Obviously, Ottawa is Ottawa, but Kentucky wore the Braves out quickly, running so much that Calipari subbed five players in during the first half.
Here’s the rotation
- Tyler Ulis
- Isaiah Briscoe
- Jamal Murray
- Marcus Lee
- Skal Labissiere
Subs (in order):
- Alex Poythress
- Charles Matthews
- Isaac Humphries
- Derek Willis
- Mychal Mulder
- EJ Floreal
- Jonny David
It’s going to be a while before Calipari perfects the rotation and finds what combinations work best. After the game, he said he’s still trying to figure out who’s the eighth man: Charles Matthews, Derek Willis, or Isaac Humphries.
“We’ve gotta find that eighth guy right now. I think Charles [Matthews] was a little nervous, but did okay. Derek and Charles, who becomes that eighth guy? Do we play a smaller team? I thought Isaac did a couple good things, but defensive rebounding, he didn’t get any balls. And when you’re that big, you’ve gotta get some defensive rebounds.”
Derek Willis made his case tonight
In the past, Derek Willis himself has admitted he hasn’t always put in the effort it takes to get playing time. Calipari said he was on Derek pretty hard yesterday in practice to put in a complete effort; Derek responded, putting up 10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in 14 minutes. Calipari couldn’t have been prouder.
“I thought Derek Willis did well. How about Derek Willis rebounding, blocking shots? He did well,” Cal said, pointing out how scary Kentucky could be if Willis is in the lineup. “We play him, we could end ip being 7′, 6’8″ or 6’9″, 6’10”. That’s another huge front line. I want to play Derek Willis, but he’s going to have to take minutes from somebody. Whether I want to play him or not. Does anyone give him minutes? I think he should be playing. I was proud of him today.”
After seeing Willis’ one-handed slams, I agree:
Marshon Norfleet is really good
Ottawa tried their best, but no one tried harder than Marshon Norfleet. The Ottawa guard has had three ACL surgeries, but played like a beast tonight, putting up 20 of Ottawa’s 58 points. The married 24-year-old was so good he earned a standing ovation from the media after the game.
“It really meant a lot to me to go out there and play hard,” Norfleet said, grinning like a school boy at the podium. His team may have come up way short, but putting up 20 points in front of 23,000 at Rupp Arena? That’ll last forever.
The three-guard lineup is a work in progress
Ulis, Murray, and Briscoe started the game, but it’s clear the three-guard lineup is still a work in progress. It looked good at times, sloppy at others. Isaiah Briscoe showed some great slashing ability, but his work on the defensive end wore him out (could he be this team’s DeAndre Liggins?). After the game, Briscoe told reporters that although they’ve been studying tapes of the dribble drive at Memphis, they haven’t been to use the three-guard lineup a lot in practice because both sides need a point guard to scrimmage. When Dominique Hawkins return to the lineup, that’ll change.
Free throw shooting still wasn’t great
If you’re going to nitpick, for the second game in a row, Kentucky’s free throw shooting wasn’t great. The Cats were 9-18 from the free throw line, which did not escape Cal afterwards.
“The only thing we didn’t do well was shoot free throws,” Cal said. “What you have is a couple guys go 0-2, 0-2. All of a sudden, you know, one went 1-3, one went 0-2, the other one went 0-2, that’s 1-7. You’re not going to shoot a real good percentage if three guys do that. But the rest of the guys I think did pretty good.”
It may be messy, but wow, that was fun
The real season hasn’t even started, but if you watched tonight’s game, you can tell it’s going to be a fun ride. Over the next few months, Calipari will tinker with combinations and the team will develop chemistry, but when the pieces fall into place, watch out. Tonight, we saw how good they are offensively; defensively, there’s still work to do, but hey, it’s the first exhibition game of the season. Kentucky fans always clamor for fast, fun, high-scoring basketball, and this group will deliver.
Now, excuse me while I go count the minutes until I get to see them play again.