Wildcats Not Relaxing After Michigan State Win

Following a convincing 21-point victory over No. 13/13 Michigan State on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Kentucky men’s basketball team earned plenty of praise for its play.

Duquesne at Kentucky

Tue., Nov. 20 - 9 p.m. ET
Rupp Arena
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | DU Get Acrobat Reader
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UK 2016-17 Team Stats DU
3-0 Record 2-2
0-0 Conference Record 0-0
83.0 PPG 76.2
60.3 Opp PPG 73.8
.464 FG% .458
.394 Opp FG% .441
35.7 RPG 37.8
.291 3PT FG% .351
.212 Opp 3PT FG% .400
.708 FT% .689
16.0 APG 12.8
8.0 SPG 5.5
7.7 BPG 5.8
Its next challenge will be to forget all the clippings and move on to the next game.

“The way that we coach, the way that we prepare – those kids know that after that game is over, we celebrate. It’s over. On to the next,” said UK associate head coach Kenny Payne, who filled in for John Calipari during a Friday press conference looking ahead to Sunday’s matchup with Duquesne (2-1).

Payne said he and the rest of the coaching staff don’t have to worry about their talented young team resting on their laurels. The issue is the outside noise.

“The friends. The parents. Their families. The friends that are from high school and where they’re from. Now, they might talk to them about, ‘Man, y’all are the real deal,’ ” Payne said. “But, when they walk in this gym, and they walk in our offices, they know it’s on to the next. So, they have no time to relax and feel good about anything. We’re trying to get better.”

Freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel said the win over Michigan State in the Champions Classic gave the second-ranked Wildcats (3-0) added confidence as they move on in their schedule. Fellow freshman forward Sacha Killeya-Jones said the older players on the team have helped them move from game to game, and that once they get back on campus it’s back to their normal routine of school, practice and workouts.

Kentucky did a number of things well against Michigan State, especially a suffocating defensive effort that forced 20 turnovers and didn’t allow a single Spartan to reach double figures in scoring. With that said, there’s still plenty to improve upon.

“We’re trying to get better every day,” Payne said. “Are we happy we beat Michigan State, that’s a really good team? Yes, we are. Did we play our best? Not even close. Not even close.”

Perhaps at the top of that to-do list for UK is rebounding. The Wildcats enter their fourth game of the season at minus-nine in rebounding margin, and have been outrebounded now twice in three games. According to college basketball stats wizard Ken Pomeroy, Kentucky ranks 272nd in the nation in defensive-rebounding percentage.

It’s not an issue that Payne sees as a long-term problem, but probably more one that is attributable to youth. Nevertheless, with Kentucky’s length and athleticism it’s been an unexpected storyline in the early stages of the season.

“I think we just gotta be more aggressive,” Sacha Killeya-Jones said. “KP talks to us about that a lot is creating contact first, going after rebounds and everything like that. Just be more aggressive with it.”

Another point of emphasis remains to establish more of a post presence. The opening week of the season saw guards Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk account for 51 points per game (61.4 percent of UK’s total scoring), and 55 of UK’s 69 total points against Michigan State.

“I think what happens to us is similar to last year when you have such great guards, it’s hard to understand that you’ve gotta get your post guys involved,” Payne said. “… I think that’s the key to being a championship team, it’s being versatile enough to where you’ve got an inside game and a perimeter game.”

A positive that Payne has seen is that the Wildcats are playing each game more against themselves than against their opponents. It’s a good thing in that it pushes them each to their individual brink, but can be a bad thing when mixed with youth.

“We want them to go out and play at their best, perform at their best,” Payne said. “You’re going to make mistakes, but play with energy. Play with confidence and have fun with it. You’re a good team.”

The next opportunity for Kentucky to show just how good of a team it is will be Sunday (9 p.m. on ESPNU) against a Duquesne team that hung tough on the road at Penn State in its second outing of the year before ultimately losing by eight points.

“We have the toughest schedule in the country, so there’s going to be more tough games coming up,” Gabriel said. “We can’t focus too much on past things. We got Duquesne coming up and we got more games to play, so that’s what we’re working on.”

UK's Defense, Monk Smother Michigan State in Champions Classic

One of the Kentucky freshmen stepped up big from the outside while the rest of the Wildcats took care of things with defense in Kentucky's victory over Michigan State in the Champions Classic on Tuesday night.

Malik Monk's 23 points on 7-for-11 shooting from 3-point range and the second-ranked Wildcats' defense held No. 13 Michigan State to 32.8 percent shooting combined for a 69-48 victory Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Wildcats (3-0) averaged 90 points in their first two games but this time it was defense that did it as the Spartans (0-2) shot 32.8 percent from the field (20 of 61) including 5 for 26 (19.2 percent) from beyond the arc.

Relying on another talented freshman class, Kentucky was able to up the tempo enough and keep the tenacious defense going that the Spartans committed 20 turnovers, which the Wildcats turned into 24 points.

Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe added 21 points and freshman guard De'Aaron Fox chipped in with 12 points for Kentucky, which snapped Michigan State's two-game winning streak in the series that the Wildcats lead 13-11.

Kentucky led 34-26 at halftime and the Wildcats opened the big lead with a 16-7 run that made it 51-37 with 12:04 to play. Michigan State continued to struggle from the outside and the Wildcats led by as many as 23 points.

Other notables:
• Kentucky improved to 4-2 in the Champions Classic, the top mark among the four teams
• The Wildcats didn't allow a single MSU player to reach double figures
• UK improved to 63-0 under John Calipari when limiting the opponent to 55 points or fewer. The Wildcats are 136-5 under Calipari when limiting the opponents to 63 points or fewer
• Kentucky blocked eight shots and has swatted seven shots or more in all three games this season
• The Wildcats were 16 of 20 from the line
• Briscoe has scored at least 17 points in all three games this season
• Fox had a game-high six assists and has led the Wildcats in assists in all three games
• Monk is just the third freshman in school history to make at least seven 3-point field goals in a regular-season nonconference game (Doron Lamb and Jamal Murray were the others)
• For just the second time since the 1949-50 season, UK has won each of its first three games to start the year by at least 21 points (1998-99 was the other)

De'Aaron Fox Named SEC Freshman of the Week

Kentucky freshman De'Aaron Fox was tabbed the SEC's Freshman of the Week following the league's opening weekend of play on Nov. 14. Fox averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game in helping lead UK to wins over Stephen F. Austin and Canisius.

Fox began his career with a 12-point, 12-assist outing vs. the Lumberjacks for his first career double-double. The 12 assists were the most for a UK player in a debut since assists began being kept in 1971-72. It's also the most assists for any UK player in a season opener. Furthermore, it tied for the fourth-most assists in a single game by any UK player in the John Calipari era.

He didn't stop there, however. In UK's second win of the season, Fox tied with sophomore Isaiah Briscoe with 21 points. Fox's night was highlighted by a 9-for-9 day at the charity stripe. In his first two games, Fox is a perfect 15 of 15 from the line.

It marked the third consecutive season the Wildcats have begun the season with a Freshman of the Week honor. Skal Labissiere (2015) and Trey Lyles (2014) were the others. It also marks the sixth time in eight seasons under Calipari a freshman has been honored by the league office after the opening week of play. Fox joins Eric Bledsoe (2009), Terrence Jones (2010) and Anthony Davis (2011) as the others.