Playing in a strange setting against an unusual opponent, Kentucky ended the strange first half with authority.
The Cats were knifing through the Hofstra zone at will, shooting over 50% at the Barclays Center, but they couldn’t contain Hofstra on the defensive end. From missed rebounds to slow rotations, Kentucky allowed the Pride to hang around until the final media timeout of the first half.
Beginning at the 3:39-mark, Kentucky silenced Hofstra for six minutes. Malik Monk capped off a 12-0 run with a deep contested three just before the final horn. The run that put the game out of reach extended to 21-1, until the Pride scored from the block with 17:09 remaining in the second half.
At the heart of Kentucky’s run was the hometown kid, Isaiah Briscoe. With family and friends in the stands, Briscoe hit his first six shots to score 15 before half. Hofstra couldn’t play zone because of Briscoe. It wasn’t because he was knocking down threes, it was because of his ability to drive through the zone from the free throw line and finish at the rim.
Briscoe didn’t lead the team in scoring, but he’s the reason they pulled away, finishing with 19 points on 8-of-11 shots, 6 assists and 2 rebounds.
Calipari described Kentucky’s game-fining run simply: “We made some shots. We defended better.” He added, “We’ve got a long ways to go.”
There have been stranger things, but a Sunday afternoon first half struggle vs. Hofstra at the Barclays Center is one of the stranger Kentucky basketball games I’ve ever watched. Here are a few noteworthy moments with a side of analysis.
Never Worry About Malik Monk
A bit of a gun, when his shots aren’t falling the immediate reaction is to pump the brakes. His reaction: “I got this.”
Monk started 1-of-6 from behind the three-point line. He followed that up by hitting three in a row. Monk finished with a team-high 20 points and 4 assists, including this beautiful lob to Bam Adebayo.
They actually converted a lob to Bam. I can’t believe it either.
Bam’s Camp Cal Experience Will NOT be Fun
I do not envy what John Calipari is going to do to Bam Adebayo during winter break, but he needs it, maybe more than any other player on the team.
It’s easy to “oh” and “ah” at Bam’s physique. He has all of the tangibles you want with a big man, including a soft hook shot, but the intangibles need work. Bam’s lack of awareness is noticeable on both ends of the floor. On defense he’s a step slow, often going for a difficult block instead of rotating to rebound. Offensively, on more than one occasion he cut right into a driving teammate.
Bam will be fine. He’s never played with guards this good. This early experience is invaluable. If you think it’s fun watching him now, just wait until he figures things out.
A Stupid Technical
The “hanging on the rim” technical is the dumbest rule in sports. Bam got his second one of the early season for trying to grab a rebound while hanging on the rim. I only think it’s a technical because refs like to make the “T” motion. Hanging on the rim gives players time to ensure they have a safe landing spot. It should not be a penalty. Today’s circumstances warrant a change in possession, but not a technical.
Now that I’m finished with a mini-rant, one more weird thing that happened today: Hofstra had two lane violations in the first half.
Willis, Mulder were Beasts on the Boards
Derek Willis led the team in rebounding. Fact. However, that isn’t the most impressive Derek Willis rebounding fact. Hofstra’s Lithuanian-born center Rokas Gustys entered the game as the nation’s leading rebounder. Willis and Gustys each finished with 8 rebounds.
Even though Willis isn’t physically built to be an exceptional rebounder, when he is in the zone, he’s arguably Kentucky’s best rebounder.
“When he’s in the zone” is an important premise.
You knew as soon as you saw him today that he was ready to ball, but sometimes he’s hesitant and plays without that signature Bullitt County grit and aggressiveness. Maybe it’s because he started over Wenyen Gabriel, maybe it’s because he had a delicious pregame meal. Whatever it is, he needs to do it more often.
Mychal Mulder still hasn’t found consistency in his jump shot, but he rebounds so well it doesn’t matter. He had five today, but the stats don’t accurately reflect the impact he had on the game. Three of those rebounds came when the game was tight in the first half. Hofstra was hanging around because of second-chance points (they had 19 offensive rebounds); Mulder took away those opportunities to help Kentucky sprint out to a big lead by halftime.
Cal’s Highest Scoring Team?
For the first time in school history Kentucky has scored at least 87 points in nine of their first ten games of a season. They currently average 94 points per game. The most a Calipari team has ever averaged per game was 79.4 a season ago.
Sacha Killeya-Jones’ Best Game
Killeya-Jones is beginning to become comfortable on the court. He only played nine minutes but managed to touch almost every statistical category: 4 points, 2 offensive rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal. Before today, SKJ struggled to find his touch against physicality. Today he stood strong in the post on both ends of the floor. I think it’s safe to say he was UK’s best defender in the post.
I appreciate Killeya-Jones’ fundamental approach. He’s still coming into his own, but once he figures out how to fit in, I’m curious where he will fit in Kentucky’s lineup, especially when Wenyen and Isaac Humphries are struggling.