Cats Fly to Dominant Win in Atlantis Showcase

With a young team headed to paradise for its second-ever road trip, concerns over Kentucky’s focus for a matchup with Arizona State were understandable.

It turns out those concerns were not founded.

“I thought they were spectacular,” Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley said.

The Sun Devils (4-3) ran into a Big Blue buzz saw on Monday night. Well, to put it more appropriately, it was top-ranked UK (7-0) that did most of the running in a 115-69 victory in the Atlantis Showcase. The win was Kentucky’s seventh in a row by 21 or more points.

“We’re fast and we’re quick. We’re fast and we’re quick,” John Calipari said, repeating himself because the statement bears repeating.

Hurley said he didn’t think he’d seen a faster team in his time as a coach, but Calipari balked, thinking of his teams in 2009-10 and 2011-12. The numbers, however, speak for themselves.

Neither of those teams ever scored 100 points three games in a row like this group now has. Nor did they force turnovers at nearly as high a rate as this team is through seven games – on nearly a quarter of opponents’ possession – or play at this fast a pace.

“How quickly the game moved, man, we haven’t seen anything like that,” Hurley said. “We can’t simulate that in practice. Our last couple games didn’t simulate that.”

UK only forced 13 turnovers on this night, but scored 21 points off them. And in spite of limited turnover opportunities, the Cats managed 21 fast-break points, not even getting credit for dozens more points that could have been.

De’Aaron Fox is the headliner when it comes to speed on this team, and for good reason, with Isaiah Briscoe and Malik Monk not far behind. Calipari says it’s the entire roster that drives the way UK is able to play though.

“Everybody can run,” Calipari said. “Derek (Willis) can run. Wenyen (Gabriel) can run. Bam (Adebayo) can run. I mean, we got a lot of guys that can get out and go and our guards can all go.”

As nice as that speed is, it’s not the trait that most leads Calipari to believe that “this team has a chance,” as he said after the win over Arizona State. The biggest reasons for that feeling are the team’s unselfishness – unselfishness that led to 33 assists on 44 baskets against Arizona State – and an all-for-one attitude – an attitude that led to Derek Willis and Malik Monk making incredible hustle plays in diving to the floor to gain possession.

“I think they have pride in who they are and what they’re about and what they’ve done in coming here,” Calipari said. “They all came here understanding that they’re going to share.”

It’s an annual thing, Coach Cal saying, “I like my team,” but there’s perhaps never been a team he likes quite as he does this group. That guarantees nothing come NCAA Tournament time, but it sure does guarantee a fun season.

“Every day I walk in the gym, every day, I walk in the gym and say, ‘Wow. I got really talented kids,’ ” Calipari said. “You ready for this? Who are great kids, who are smart, who care about one another, who got great hearts, kind people. Yet they have a competitive spirit. The whole group. And I look in there—and I get to coach my son on top of that? Come on. I’m the happiest guy in the world.”