Kentucky Hits the Road, Facing LSU

Isaiah Briscoe found himself in a unique situation Monday.

Speaking at Kentucky’s regular pregame availability ahead of a trip to LSU, Briscoe was answering more questions about a Wildcat opponent than his own team.

Kentucky vs. LSU
Tue., Jan. 5 - 9 p.m. ET
Pete Maravich Assembly Center
Baton Rouge, La.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | LSU Get Acrobat Reader
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UK 2015-16 Team Stats LSU
11-2 Record 8-5
1-0 Conference Record 1-0
.473 FG% .477
.402 Opp FG% .434
.313 3FG% .319
.660 FT% .673
78.5 PPG 84.2
39.8 RPG 39.0
5.8 BPG 4.1
14.0 APG 17.1
7.0 SPG 9.2
At UK, that’s a rarity.

LSU’s Ben Simmons is a rare breed though.

“He can do it all, 6-(foot)-10, he can dribble, pass, shoot,” Briscoe said. “He can do it all. He can run a team. He’s a good player.”

Simmons has lived up to every bit of the hype that accompanied him on his arrival to Baton Rouge, La. The Melbourne, Australia native is leading the Tigers in every major statistical category, averaging 20.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks, all while shooting 57.4 percent from the field.

LSU enters the game at just 8-5 after taking down Vanderbilt on the road in its Southeastern Conference opener, but no one has had much luck slowing Simmons. 

“Very unique basketball player,” associate head coach Kenny Payne said. “If you guard him with a big, he has the ability to play like a point guard. If you put a smaller player on him, he has the ability to play like a big. He’ll play great against us. I’m sure he’ll be excited. He’s an excellent rebounder. He’s a challenge.”

It’s a challenge Payne expects the No. 9/8 Cats (11-2, 1-0 SEC) to be eager to embrace. Neither he nor John Calipari are spending a lot of time using the looming specter of Simmons to motivate their team because there’s no need for such tactics.

“I’m sure our guys will feel obligated to go at him,” Payne said. “He gets a lot of hype. Everybody considers him hands down the best player in the country, so we should be excited to play against him.”

Depending on your scouting service of choice, UK’s Skal Labissiere was either just behind or just ahead of Simmons in class of 2015 recruiting rankings. 

Comparisons between the two are inevitable ahead of the UK-LSU matchup, which will tip at 9 p.m. on Tuesday on ESPN. Labissiere hasn’t been as dominant as his peer through 13 games, though he did show signs of progress in a dominant win over Ole Miss on Saturday.

Coach John Calipari called it a “first step” and Labissiere knows there are many more to come.

“Every day, I’m just getting better,” Labissiere said. “Every day in practice, going against my teammates, practice has gotten harder over the past few weeks. But I feel like I’m getting better, and that’s what I came here for. Coach Cal, when he was recruiting me, told me it wasn’t going to be easy at all. So right now, I came here to get better and that’s all I could ask for, and I feel like I’m getting better.”

Labissiere might have had more performances like the 26-point outing he had in his second career game than scoring four points over the last three games before the New Year when he came to UK, but Payne says those downs will serve Labissiere will in the long term.

“Sometimes adversity, when it comes so easy to you, adversity brings you down and makes you start over and revaluate who you are as a player,” Payne said. “It hasn’t been easy for the kid but the kid is super. Again, super talented. He has lost a little confidence. The greatest thing is in the last game we saw a step in the right direction. He has to continue to do that. He will. We expect that at any time he’s going to break out and have a super game. Hopefully it’s against LSU.”

If it does, the Labissiere-Simmons angle will surely be played up. However, it’s unlikely the two will spend extended time even guarding each other.

“Well, I think it’s going to be a number of guys,” Payne said. “I think it has to be Alex (Poythress), Marcus (Lee) and maybe at times Isaiah (Briscoe). We want to throw a bunch of players at him that are going to compete against him, put pressure on him, make everything that he does hard. Just compete.”

As good as Simmons may be, that must extend beyond whoever draws the assignment against the potential No. 1 overall pick. 

LSU has played better since the return of Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor from injury.

“Hornsby is a really big key for their team to succeed,” Payne said. “He’s been playing really well. He shoots the ball. He’s a leader for their team. He’s going to be a tough guy that we have to guard. We just have to get after him. Be on him on catch and shoot -- jam him up, no space. He’s tough. He can play.”

Hornsby is scoring 17.5 points per game since getting healthy, reaching double figures in all six games.

“Victor is a big-time rebounder,” Payne said. “He’s averaging right around 14 points a game. Big-time rebounder, can shoot the ball, good in the post – he’s a challenge.”

The Cats will also have to contend with a road crowd for just the second time this season after dropping a game at UCLA last month. The good news is UK has come a long way since then, most notably in dispatching Ole Miss with a defensive effort Payne called “really good” for the game’s first 32 minutes.

“It starts with defense and putting pressure on the ball and just getting after them,” Payne said. “If we take that mentality into LSU we’ll be fine, but it’s not going to be easy. Typically LSU against Kentucky plays their best. So we have to expect them to come out and play better than they have been.”

Calipari Wins 200th Career Game at UK in Record Time

With a thrilling 75-73 victory over rival Louisville, John Calipari captured his 200th career win at Kentucky faster than any coach in UK history -- and nearly faster than anyone has ever done it at any other school.

Calipari reached the 200-win plateau in his 240th career game at Kentucky. Rick Pitino, previously the fastest to 200 wins at UK prior to Calipari, didn’t capture his 200th Wildcat win until his 249th game. The legendary Adolph Rupp reached 200 during his 250th game.

Not only did Calipari reach the 200-win mark in record pace at Kentucky, he also nearly set the all-time Division I mark. With the win over U of L, he became the second-fastest Division I men’s basketball coach to reach 200 victories at a single school, behind only LIU-Brooklyn’s Clair Bee, who achieved the feat in 231 games.

Calipari is one of just 11 head coaches in Division I men’s basketball history with at least 200 victories at two different schools and just the fifth coach at Kentucky to reach the 200-win plateau.

He’s currently the only coach in NCAA history with at least 189 victories at three different schools.

Kentucky Rolls Past Ole Miss in SEC Opener

Kentucky began Southeastern Conference play in dominating fashion with a convincing 83-61 victory over Ole Miss on Saturday in Rupp Arena.

UK’s defense slowed down the SEC’s leading scorer, Stefan Moody, while UK point guard Tyler Ulis enjoyed another spectacular day. The sophomore from Chicago recorded the first double-double of his career with 20 points and a career-high 10 assists, notching a number of milestones in the process.

Ulis became the first player in program history to record at least 20 points, at least 10 assists and at least six steals in a single game in school history. He was also the first Wildcat with 20 points and 10 assists in a game since John Wall vs. Rider on Nov. 21, 2009.

While Ulis did his thing offensively, the Wildcats were suffocating defensivley. Led by Ulis’ career-high six steals, UK posted 13 steals for the game and held Ole Miss to 40.0-percent shooting. In the first half alone, the Wildcats limited the Rebels to 23.1 percent.

Thanks to a 21-3 run, Kentucky led 46-22 at halftime, its largest halftime lead of the season.

UK’s lead swelled to 29 points in the second half, and the Wildcats never let Ole Miss back into the game with a dominating performance on the glass. Kentucky won the rebounding battle 41-27, which led to a 16-9 advantage in second-chance points.

Other notables:

• UK leads the all-time series with Ole Miss 104-13
• Kentucky extended its home winning streak to 29 games, the fourth-longest win streak in Rupp Arena history
• The Wildcats shot 50 percent from the field, the sixth time this season they have made at least half their shots
• UK limited Ole Miss to 61 points, improving to 124-5 (.961) in the John Calipari era when holding the opponent to 63 points or less
• Ulis’ 10 assists marked Kentucky’s first 10-assist game since Julius Mays vs. Lafayette on Nov. 16, 2012
• Freshman guard Jamal Murray had 18 points, his 11th consecutive game in double figures
• Junior forward Marcus Lee totaled 13 points and eight rebounds and has made 32 of 43 shots (.744) over his last seven games
• Senior forward Alex Poythress had six points and a game-high nine rebounds
• Freshman forward Skal Labissiere had nine points, his highest total since scoring 10 against Eastern Kentucky