Kentucky Hosts Illinois State on Monday
11/29/2015 2:14:46 PM /
With Tyler Ulis sidelined by a hyperextended elbow, a role opened Dominique Hawkins.
Hawkins played nine minutes in Kentucky’s win over South Florida, all in the second half, and he took full advantage of his opportunity.
“I liked what I saw from Dom,” John Calipari said after the game. “Dom may be that rotational guy.”
Until Sunday, Hawkins hadn’t even caught wind of Coach Cal’s comments. He was happy to hear about them when he did.
“It feels real good to know that he said that,” Hawkins said. “Actually, I didn’t even know that he said that. But in practice, I’m always fighting against the best three guards anybody can probably practice against. To hear that from Coach Cal definitely gives me more confidence to play the way I’ve been playing.”
Before sustaining a broken hand on Oct. 5, it looked as if Hawkins would be playing that way all season long. Hawkins was shooting the ball better than he ever had and playing with his trademark energy, making a case for a rotation spot just as he is now.
The injury, however, kept him out for four weeks. Hawkins stayed in shape, but missed crucial practice time. And with Calipari adjusting UK’s style of play to fit a guard-heavy roster, that left Hawkins with ground to make up.
“I kind of did feel like that because I felt like I was getting left behind because he was putting in the dribble-drive, and we didn’t put in the dribble-drive with last year’s team,” Hawkins said. “So I feel like I didn’t know how to play it really well, so I had to come back and learn.”
When Hawkins did come back to play the dribble-drive, he had to do it against the backcourt many believe to be the best in the nation.
“It was tough because I was going against the first team with Tyler, (Isaiah) Briscoe, and Jamal (Murray),” Hawkins said. “With them guarding you, it’s really hard to dribble by them. Definitely Tyler. He’s an elite defender.”
Hawkins has improved going against Ulis every day. Add that to the clarity Hawkins has about what Calipari is asking of him and you have a player pushing for minutes ahead of UK’s game against Illinois State at 7 p.m. on Monday.
“Definitely feel like my defensive presence – I feel like I have to be a lock-down defender,” Hawkins said. “Give the team energy and make open shots.”
He did that against USF, including confidently drilling a second-half 3-pointer. Calipari said the make was all about Hawkins’ preparation and – you guessed it – confidence.
“That shootaround he made every shot,” Hawkins said. “So he walked in the game, bang. Bangs a 3.”
Come Monday, Hawkins will need to be ready for another opportunity. Calipari said Ulis would not practice on Sunday and his status remains day to day.
“I would expect if Tyler doesn't play, Dom gets more minutes, and this could be a good game for him,” Calipari said.
Illinois State enters the game with a 3-4 record, which includes a game against second-ranked Maryland in which it led late into the second half. The Redbirds are led by guards DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Paris Lee, who average a combined 27.9 points per game.
“We're playing a good team, Illinois State,” Calipari said. “I watched their Maryland game. They had Maryland beat. They had Maryland beat. They got a quick guard, Lee. I'm not sure what we'll be able to do with him.”
Lee is a 6-foot point guard averaging four assists. He seems a logical matchup for Hawkins, meaning the next opportunity could be coming soon for the Richmond, Ky., native.
Wildcats Rout South Florida Without Their Floor General
Kentucky closed out a perfect 4-0 record in the Hoophall Miami Invitational with an 84-63 victory over former assistant coach Orlando Antigua’s South Florida Bulls.
UK closed out the first half on a 15-0 run and never looked back in the neutral-site game in Miami. Perhaps the most impressive part of the victory is the Cats were able to pull away without their leader, sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis, who left in the first half with a hyperextended right elbow and did not return.
In his absence, a number of Wildcats stepped up. Freshman guard Jamal Murray posted his fifth double-digit scoring game of the season with a game-high and career-high 21 points, in addition to three assists and no turnovers. He earned Most Valuable Player Honors for his performance.
Freshman forward Skal Labissiere was effective with 17 points and three blocks, while freshman guard Charles Matthews had his best game as a Wildcat, scoring a career-high 11 points. Also, freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe posted a solid line with six points, a career-high seven assists and a team-high-tying six rebounds.
Perhaps the biggest key of the game was UK’s ability to turn turnovers into points. With nine steals and 14 forced turnovers, Kentucky scored 23 points off turnovers.
• UK’s 21-point margin of victory was the second best of the season (plus-30 vs NJIT on Nov. 14)
• For the third time in the last 50 seasons, the Wildcats have won each of their first six games by at least 11 points (1982-83, 2014-15, 2015-16)
• UK led by as many as 31 with 11:43 left in the game
Season Starters of Note
The Wildcats are off to a 6-0 start to the season. It’s the 30th time in program history UK has won its first six games and the fourth time in seven seasons under John Calipari. Other notes include:
• Kentucky has won 37 consecutive regular-season games. UK has not lost since dropping a road contest at Florida on March 8, 2014
• For the third time in the shot-clock era, UK has allowed 65 points or less in each of its first six games of a season (2011-12, 2014-15, 2015-16) - all under Calipari
• UK has had three different players record at least six assists in a game within the first six games of a season (Isaiah Briscoe, Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis) for the first time since 1996-97 (Derek Anderson, AnthonyEpps, Ron Mercer and Wayne Turner)