Kentucky Hosts Clarion in Exhibition Opener

Per usual, John Calipari has a brand-new team, replete with a group of freshmen big in both number and talent.

Clarion at Kentucky
Sun., Oct. 30 - 7 p.m. ET
Rupp Arena
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | Clarion Get Acrobat Reader
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TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK Sports Network
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UK 2015-16 Team Stats CU
27-9 Record 14-16
13-5 Conference Record 10-12
79.5 PPG 74.8
68.1 Opp PPG 72.6
.478 FG% .428
.397 Opp FG% .432
38.8 RPG 37.9
.366 3PT FG% .332
.326 Opp 3PT FG% .353
.690 FT% .692
14.2 APG 11.9
5.7 SPG 8.7
5.8 SPG 4.6
In a departure from the norm, that team has already been together in its entirety for months, with each player on campus for both summer and fall classes, workouts and practices.

The result is a head start in the way of chemistry.

“Everyone hangs out with everyone,” said senior Derek Willis, who’s been part of this process three times previously. “Off the court we’re great together.”

The same is true on the court.

“We just really mesh really well together,” Mychal Mulder said. “We all have a really great relationship as a whole and it’s been great to watch us come together on the basketball floor. “

The Wildcats, on the eve of their first exhibition, already believe they’ve made significant headway toward becoming the kind of team they’re projected to be by season’s end. Seniors like Willis and Mulder are helping true freshmen like Wenyen Gabriel and Malik Monk understand what will be demanded of them.

“You see us competing and I feel like a lot of the young guys have learned what it takes to fight really early on in the season,” Mulder said. “So I’m excited to see where we go from here, but we’ve learned a lot in the time that we’ve spent together.”

As much as they’ve enjoyed getting to know and competing with one another, that doesn’t mean some new faces and different color jerseys won’t be a welcome sight when Clarion comes to Rupp Arena at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

“We’re all really excited to be able to line up against somebody that we don’t know so well,” Mulder said. “We work hard every day against each other and I’m excited to see us really project that against an opponent.”

The opponent, in this case, happens to be Coach Cal’s alma mater. 

“I had a ball,” Calipari said. “My college coach (Joe DeGregorio) will be here. My high school coach (Bill Sacco), who went to Clarion, will be here. They’re going to bring down some alums and different things. A couple of the players too. I’ve been so busy but I called the other day and said, ‘Why don’t you invite all the guys that I played with and get them down here?’ ”

Calipari might be excited to see his former teammates and help the school from which he graduated, but come game time he won’t be worried about much else besides his own team. That’s because the Cats – ranked No. 4 in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll – have a lot of work ahead of them.

“Playing harder and playing each possession the whole way through,” Calipari said when asked about what UK needs to improve. “We aren’t doing it right now. Playing within how you’re going to play to make yourself really look good and help our team. In other words, you’re trying to invent stuff right now. Don’t do that. Do these things that you know you do well.”

The list of things UK does well is long, even at this early point in the season. The same is likely to be true for the list of things UK doesn’t do so well. Good thing it’s not even November yet.

“These games, they always show you what you need to work on early on,” Mulder said. “It’ll show you what you got going for you and what you might lack. In an exhibition game like this, we’re just excited to go against an opponent and see what we can do against somebody other than ourselves.”

Kentucky Picked to Win 48th SEC Title

The Kentucky men’s basketball program finds itself in familiar territory under the direction of eighth-year head coach John Calipari. UK is faced with replacing more than 75 percent of its scoring and 70 percent of its rebounding, yet a select panel of media voted the Wildcats to repeat as Southeastern Conference champions. Should Kentucky achieve that standard, it would mark the fifth regular-season title under Calipari and the program’s 48th overall.It’s the 12th time since the 1998-99 season the Wildcats are the overall preseason favorite. UK was picked to win the title a season ago and did not disappoint, sharing the crown with Texas A&M. Calipari has directed his teams to regular-season SEC crowns in 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016.

Each school selected media members that cover their team and additional media from across the nation were selected by the conference office to comprise the voting panel. Points were compiled on a 14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Each media member also voted for two All-SEC teams.

UK's Nonconference Schedule Loaded

Kentucky plays one of the premier nonconference schedules in the country on an annual basis, but the Wildcats’ 2016-17 slate appears to have taken a typically difficult schedule of games and cranked it up another notch.

UK’s 13-game nonconference schedule features eight teams that made it to a postseason tournament in 2015-16, five teams who finished the year with a top 50 RPI ranking and a number of battles with college basketball’s blueblood programs. Three of KenPom’s top five teams from last season (North Carolina, Kansas and Michigan State) are among the heavyweights Kentucky will face in 2016-17.

The Wildcats’ upcoming slate will take the Wildcats as far east as the Bahamas for the second game of a two-year deal with Arizona State (Nov. 28) and as far west as Las Vegas for a matchup with North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic (Dec. 17). Kentucky will also travel twice to New York, first to play Michigan State (Nov. 15) in Madison Square Garden, and then against Hofstra at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (Dec. 11).

UK’s always highly anticipated home schedule includes rematches with UCLA (Dec. 3) and Kansas (Jan. 28). This year’s annual rivalry with Louisville will take place at the KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 21.

All told, Kentucky’s 2016-17 nonconference opponents combined for a record of 200-157 in 2015-16, a .649 winning percentage. Four teams finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the all-important RPI. Five teams start the season ranked in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll.

UK’s 2016-17 Southeastern Conference schedule will feature nine home games and nine away games, with home-and-home games against Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. It’s the fifth straight year the SEC will feature an 18-game schedule.

Record Crowd Treated to Speed Exhibition in Blue Win

From Cat Scratches: Malik Monk said it every chance he got in the preseason: Kentucky, with the makeup of its backcourt, was going to play fast. The way things went in Friday night’s Blue-White Game, it seems Monk knew what he was talking about.

Led by Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Dominique Hawkins, the Blue team raced to a 110-94 victory in front of a record crowd of 16,059. Fox was the quickest of the bunch. The freshman point guard has drawn comparisons to John Wall from his coach for his speed and he did not disappoint in that regard. Fox created fast-break opportunities that didn’t even seem to be there in scoring 31 points. He added 12 rebounds and six assists. The Houston native went toe to toe with sophomore Isaiah Briscoe for most of the evening, allowing fans a glimpse of the matchup that has been intense since the start of practice. Briscoe did plenty of damage of his own for the White team with a game-high 39 points and 10 assists. And in an encouraging development, Briscoe shot 9 of 12 at the free-throw line.

Hawkins, playing well with his senior season about to begin, poured in 22 points and looked as confident offensively as he ever has at UK. Not talked about as much as others, Hawkins served notice that he will play an important role no matter how talented his backcourt mates may be. Monk is indeed talented. His stat line (26 points, five rebounds, four assists) was impressive, but not nearly so much so as the athleticism he showed on more than one occasion. Most notable were a tremendous tomahawk slam off a feed from Fox and later a seemingly effortless 360 on an uncontested fast break.

All told, UK’s guards accounted for 141 of the 204 points scored in the annual scrimmage. Bam Adebayo led the big men with 20 points and 12 rebounds. He was joined in posting a double-double by senior Derek Willis, who had 13 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Isaac Humphries (knee soreness) and Tai Wynyard (left cheek fracture) missed the game and are day to day due to injury.