Kentucky Hosts Arizona State on Saturday

Nine games in, Kentucky’s outside shooting is beginning to draw the wrong kind of attention.

Kentucky vs. Arizona State
Sat., Dec. 12 - 3:15 p.m. ET
Rupp Arena
Lexington, Ky.
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UK 2015-16 Team Stats ASU
8-1 Record 6-2
0-0 Conference Record 0-0
.483 FG% .430
.402 Opp FG% .418
.275 3FG% .304
.678 FT% .711
80.3 PPG 75.6
41.3 RPG 42.4
6.1 BPG 3.3
13.7 APG 13.9
6.9 SPG 5.4
The Wildcats are shooting 27.5 percent from 3 on the season and have hit more than six 3s only once. 

The two players John Calipari was counting on to stretch defense – Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray – are shooting 31.4 percent and have hit just 27 3s combined. That’s baffling because they make almost three times as many in a drill they do every practice.

“We go to practice and Tyler and I made 73 each in five minutes,” Murray said. “And we go in the game and I go 2 for 9 and he goes, like, 1 for 6, so it’s stuff like that. We all know we can shoot, we’re just not making shots right now.”

For a knockdown shooter like Murray it’s a maddening thing, though he thinks he has an explanation.

“We’re thinking too much about our misses,” Murray said. “We’re putting too much pressure on ourselves to make the shot, I think. We have encouraging teammates and a coaching staff here that wants us to shoot the ball, but a lot of it is just putting pressure on making the shot because we’re missing so many right now.”

Frustrating as it may be, Murray isn’t sounding any alarms.

“We just need to play freely and once we start hitting our shots you’ll see the change in the game and start opening up teams because of our shooting ability,” Murray said. “Right now we’re not shooting that great, but we’ll pick it up for sure.”

That’s a mature point of view for a true freshman, and it’s one his coach shares. UK’s tries from outside are coming in the flow of the offense and it’s a matter of time before they start to fall.

“Well, when you look at the 3s, they are wide open,” Calipari said. “Like, they're open. We're just not making 'em. But I'll say this: We're still getting to the rim, still shooting layups.”

And true to form, Calipari has a unique perspective on the matter.

If the Cats were shooting a little better, he says, it might cover for some of their other flaws. Had they hit a handful of the 17 3-point attempts they missed at UCLA, they might have survived the physical beating the Bruins delivered them and stayed unbeaten.

For the long-term good of his team, Coach Cal is happy that didn’t happen.

“You wouldn't see the issue we have, which is physical play, which is grit, which is fight,” Calipari said. “That is our issue. And you know what? By shooting poorly, it kind of says, 'Wait a minute. He's not just saying it. We can see it.' ”

Next up for UK (8-1) is a test against another Pac 12 foe that could make those same issues come to the surface once again. Arizona State is coming to town for a 3:15 p.m. Saturday showdown in Rupp Arena. 

“And this game, Arizona State, perfect game for us,” Calipari said. “One, they're inside guys are seniors and they're physical. Their best player is their four and he's an active four. Their three guy is 6-7, so they got a big three. That's exactly what we need. They attack the glass, they play tough and physical.”

The Sun Devils enter the game coming off a 67-54 win over a Texas A&M team ranked in the Coaches Poll. Arizona State led the game by double digits nearly wire to wire to run its record on the season to 6-2 in Bobby Hurley’s first season as head coach.

“He’s gotten them to fight and battle,” Calipari said. “He’s letting them play. They space the court, a lot of pick-and-roll actions. Their fours and fives shoot balls. They’re just playing. To be honest, what’s their record right now? They should be 8-0. I’m just saying.”

Arizona State’s lone defeats – against Sacramento State in its season opener and in overtime against Marquette – both came in games the Sun Devils led in the final minutes. 

“This is an NCAA Tournament team,” Calipari said. “They’re far advanced from us. This is a junior/senior team. New coach, but the whole thing is, ‘We’re going to guard in the half court, we’re going to give them one tough shot, we’re going to rebound like crazy, we’re going to play loose offensively,’ they’re going to have motion into pick-and-rolls, shoot threes. I mean, they’re a good team.”

And to make things even more interesting, Hurley coached Buffalo to a halftime lead on Kentucky last season. That UK team, if you’ll remember, was something special.

“This year, it's different,” Calipari said. “Last year we were trying to win every game and I believe we could've, and I believe that's what we all thought. This year, it's like a typical year here. How do we get this team ready for March? And the only way is play people like this, learn, figure stuff out and then go back and work on it.”

Kentucky Roars Back with 88-67 Win over EKU

Behind a career day from senior Alex Poythress, the fifth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats roared back from a road loss to UCLA with an 88-67 victory over visiting Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday.

Poythress poured in 21 points and added a career-high 13 rebounds to chart his team-leading third double- double of the season. The 21 points were just one off of his career high set during his freshman season. He was 9 of 12 from the floor, which included four powerful dunks. The 21 points also marked the most by a Kentucky senior since Julius Mays had 24 in a win over Missouri on Feb. 23, 2013.

Poythress scored the game’s first points with a layup 18 seconds into the game to lift UK to a 2-0 lead it would never relinquish. The layup was also telling as UK’s first 16 buckets came in the form of a layup or a dunk en route to 58 of the team’s points being scored from inside of the paint, tied for a season high.

Other noteables:
• Five players scored in double figures, led by 21 from Poythress. The others were Jamal Murray (16),
Marcus Lee (11), Isaiah Briscoe (10) and Skal Labissiere (10)
• Sophomore Tyler Ulis had nine points and eight assists. The eight assists follows a nine-assist performance
at UCLA. He has a team-high 43 assists on the season and six games with five or more
• The 88 points marked a season high for the Wildcats
• UK dominated the rebounding battle 50-25. With 18 offensive rebounds, the Wildcats won the second-
chance margin 29-9
• EKU entered the game sixth in the nation in scoring (90.4 ppg), sixth in field-goal percentage (52.4) and fifth in 3-point percentage (44.3). UK limited the Colonels to 67 points, 23 below their average, while shooting just 40 percent from the field and 27.8 percent from long range
• Calipari is 108-4 (.964) in Rupp Arena, including 60-1 (.984) against nonconference opponents
• UK improved to 28-6 (.824) under Calipari when coming off a loss
• Kentucky extended its Rupp Arena winning streak to 26 straight games

Best in the Bluegrass

Kentucky’s meeting with Eastern Kentucky was the 14th game against an in-state foe the Wildcats have faced in the John Calipari era. Impressively, UK is 13-1 against opponents in the Bluegrass State since 2009-10.

The Wildcats will face Louisville on Dec. 26, its second instate foe of the 2015-16 season. UK is 7-1 against the Cards under Calipari. 

Kentucky improved to 12-0 all-time vs. Eastern Kentucky, including 3-0 under Calipari.

Bounce Back

The Wildcats don’t lose very often during the John Calipari era, but when they do, they almost always bounce back.

UK is now 28-6 under Calipari following a loss including the victory over Eastern Kentucky. Kentucky hasn’t dropped back-to-back games since losing a pair to Arkansas and South Carolina on Feb. 27, 2014 and March 1, 2014, respectively.