Kentucky Visits Texas A&M on Saturday
Addressing his Kentucky team moments after the Wildcats had dispatched Tennessee, John Calipari posed a simple either/or question.
|Kentucky vs. Texas A&M|
|Sat., Feb. 20 - 6:30 p.m. ET
College Station, Texas
Game Notes: UK | A&M
Digital Gameday Program
|UK||2015-16 Team Stats||A&M|
“I asked the guys after the game, ‘Would you rather be practicing or playing games?’ ” Coach Cal said. “They said, ‘We’d rather play games.’ Good, that’s what we’re doing.”
The Cats are getting their wish with a stretch of three games in six days.
The next comes when No. 14 UK (20-6, 10-3 Southeastern Conference) head to College Station, Texas for a matchup with Texas A&M (19-7, 8-5 SEC) at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. College GameDay, ESPN’s popular pregame show, will be on site for the game, adding extra hype to a game pitting two teams that have spent the season at or near the top of SEC standings.
But for Isaac Humphries, that’s not what has him most excited about quick-turnaround trip to the Lone Star State.
“Honestly, I’m so excited about the hot weather,” Humphries said after the victory over the Volunteers on Thursday night. “Going to Texas this time of the year sounds very good. But the game is going to be just another one of those games where we’re going to have to be aggressive and focused, and know the scout and execute.”
UK will surely need a focused Humphries come Saturday evening.
The 7-foot Australian had already been playing himself into a more prominent role before Thursday night, seeing 36 minutes in UK’s previous three games after playing just 21 since Dec. 3. His physicality, rebounding and shot-blocking have been a welcome addition since Alex Poythress went down with a knee injury.
Then Marcus Lee missed the second half of the Tennessee game with a balky back and Humphries responded three points, six rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes of action.
“That was fine, it gave Isaac a chance,” Calipari said on Thursday night. “I thought Isaac was tremendous for the minutes he was playing. He's just got to get on the floor more. He's got to be out there. I thought he tries and he fights so I was happy with how he played.”
Calipari provided no update on Lee’s status ahead of the Texas A&M game, but it’s safe to say both Humphries and fellow freshman Skal Labissiere will be counted on.
“Well, I think both of them are going to have opportunities like they did, and then whichever one is playing better stays in the game,” Calipari said. “Just gotta fight. Gotta fight and stay in front, go get balls and do all that kind of stuff, and you stay in the game.”
That kind of fight will be at a premium against the Aggies. Texas A&M ranks 25th nationally in average height, with a starting lineup that runs 6-foot-5, 6-3, 6-7, 6-7 and 6-10. The Aggies’ primary bruiser is 265-pound freshman Tyler Davis, who is shooting 66.2 percent from the field.
“If you don’t have a presence that can hold them back a little bit, they can dominate you around that goal,” Calipari said. “They’re big and they’re long.”
A&M, led by two seniors, is dangerous on the perimeter as well.
“They have guards that are creative and make plays,” Calipari said. “Obviously (Danuel) House can go for 40 (points). They have other guys that come off the bench that can shoot the ball well. (Alex) Caruso is one of the best passers you will ever see. He tries to steal every ball so you have to be aware, you can’t just throw a lazy pass, it’s a layup.”
The strength of Texas A&M’s defense, ranked 15th nationally in efficiency according to kenpom.com, is forcing turnovers. The Aggies take the ball away from opponents on 22.4 percent of their defensive possessions – good for 12th nationally – but UK is committing turnovers on just 15.6 percent of its possessions in SEC play, best in the conference.
Tyler Ulis is the key to that, but Calipari expects his point guard to have to cope with some unique looks from the Aggies.
“I believe they’re going to trap him some and do some stuff – Billy (Kennedy) will do some different things – so his pass may be the initiating pass and the next pass may be the assist,” Calipari said. “You just don’t know. But they do collapse on drives, but they’re really big. So around the basket you almost got to get those bigs away from the goal some so you get some in at the rim.”
Ulis is seemingly one of the few UK players not dealing with injury concerns for Kentucky, as Derek Willis is battling knee tendinitis in addition to Poythress and Lee’s issues. Calipari, however, isn’t interested in excuses.
“Obviously, you want to have a full team, but you go with who’s there,” Calipari said. “I mean, Marcus went out and we played better. Next man up. That’s what we’ve done. I walk in the locker room, ‘Alex can’t go today.’ ‘What?’ I walk in the locker room, ‘Isaiah (Briscoe) hurt his ankle in the warm-up line.’ ‘What?’ Next man up. That’s how we do it here.”
Kentucky Wins Fourth Straight with Victory over Tennessee
Avenging a loss to Tennessee two weeks earlier, the Kentucky Wildcats won their fourth straight game -- their longest winning streak since opening the season with seven consecutive wins -- on Thursday with an 80-70 victory over the Volunteers. UK remained in sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference with the win while extending its Rupp Arena winning streak to 35 games.
On a rare off-night for sophomore guard Tyler Ulis, freshman guard Jamal Murray and junior forward Derek Willis more than picked up the slack. Murray notched his fifth straight game with 20 or more points while Willis enjoyed another career night with a career-high 25 points on a career-high seven 3-pointers.
UK led by as many as 22 in this one thanks to a first-half 15-1 run, but unlike the game in Knoxville, Tenn., earlier in the season when the Wildcats surrendered a 21-point lead, Kentucky would hang on to this one with another stellar defensive effort. UK held Tennessee to 37.9 percent from the floor, improving to 11-0 on the season when holding the opposition to 38 percent or less.
Thursday marked the 16th straight game that a Wildcat has scored at least 20 points, and Willis became the fifth different player to score at least 25 in a game this season. Willis did so by connecting on 8 of 12 from the field and 7 of 11 from 3-point range.
Meanwhile Murray scored in double figures for his 24th straight game, the most since Brandon Knight had a 28-game double-figure stretch in 2010-11. With a 3-for-6 night from behind the 3-point line, he’s hit multiple 3-pointers in five straight games.
Together, the duo hit 10 of Kentucky’s 11 3-pointers, the fourth straight game UK has made 10 or more 3-pointers. The last time the Wildcats turned that trick was 1993.
Freshman Isaiah Briscoe grabbed 10 rebounds, the second time this season he’s reached double figures on the glass.
• UK has won its last four games by an average margin of 22.5 points
• Kentucky notched its 60th season with 20 or more victories, including the eighth year in a row and the 25th time in the last 26 seasons. It’s Calipari’s 22nd consecutive season with 20 or more wins, the longest active streak in the country
• Ulis extended his school-record streak of four or more assists in a game to 19 straight
• Kentucky has scored at least 76 points in nine straight regular-season SEC games for the first time since the 1995-96 season (12 straight)
Ulis, Murray Sweep SEC Awards
After combining for 53.2 percent of Kentucky’s scoring in dominant victories over Georgia and South Carolina, Tyler Ulis was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week and Jamal Murray was tabbed SEC Freshman of the Week. Ulis was also named ESPN’s National Player of the Week and earned Capital One Cup Impact Performance of the Week honors.
Ulis earned his third SEC Player of the Week honor, while Murray has now garnered a team-leading three SEC Freshman of the Week honors. Ulis’ ESPN National Player of the Week honor is the team’s first of the season and the first since James Young claimed the honor on Dec. 30, 2013. Kentucky leads the league with eight total honors.
Ulis averaged 20.5 points, 10.0 assists and 2.5 steals in leading the Wildcats to a 2-0 week, including a victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks, who were ranked No. 20 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and in a tie with the Wildcats for first place in the SEC heading into Saturday’s game in Columbia, S.C.
Murray averaged a team-high 25.0 points per game in the two dominating victories this week, which included 10 made 3-pointers.