No. 1 Kentucky Pounds Cleveland State, 101-70
LEXINGTON, Ky. - As top-ranked Kentucky develops in small steps, the on-court relationship between Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox is clearly off and running.
Monk scored 23 points and Fox had 16 points and 11 assists to propel the Wildcats to a 101-70 rout of Cleveland State on Wednesday that was impressive on several fronts.
With leading scorer Isaiah Briscoe sidelined by a back injury, the freshman duo picked up the slack and did it quickly, helping Kentucky (5-0) roll to a 16-2 lead that was never threatened in its first game this season as the nation's No. 1 team. They combined for 31 first-half points alone, with 19 from Monk, whose 4-for-4 start from long range and 8-of-12 shooting overall helped him match his career scoring best set last week against Michigan State.
"We played well," Fox said. "Without Isaiah today, people stepped up and we ended up getting the win."
They combined for 15 assists - including 10 in the first half - and seven rebounds with two steals apiece, looking to each other when Kentucky was in transition.
Which was often.
"We have great chemistry," Monk said. "Although we never played that much together, we know where we are on the court. That's another thing that makes this team so close."
Their chemistry was evident in the first half when Monk stole the ball near midcourt and drove toward the basket before bouncing the ball off the glass perfectly back to the trailing Fox, whose thunderous dunk brought a roar from the crowd of 22,441 at Rupp Arena.
"It was just a great pass," Fox said. "In transition if a guy plays you, you give it up and that's what happened. The guy played him, he threw it off the glass and I dunked it."
Bam Adebayo added 14 points and seven rebounds while Mychal Mulder matched a career high with 13 for Kentucky, which shot a season-best 52 percent from the field and broke 100 points for the first time this season. Wenyen Gabriel had 10 points and 10 rebounds as Kentucky won the second of three games in the Bluegrass Showcase.
Rob Edwards' 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting led Cleveland State (1-3), which couldn't keep up with the Wildcats on either end. The Vikings committed 19 turnovers, shot 39 percent and were outrebounded 47-36.
"We're trying to do everything from the outside and that's hard against a team like Kentucky because their guards really come after you and play defense," Vikings coach Gary Waters said. "And you know what the crazy part about it is? They enjoy doing it."
THE BIG PICTURE
Cleveland State: The Vikings appeared headed for a big improvement over their 38 percent shooting effort against UT Martin, with 48 percent accuracy in the first half. But they made just 11 of 35 shots after the break and finished close to their season low. Bobby Word added 14 points.
Kentucky: Senior guard Dominique Hawkins started in Briscoe's place along with Fox, Monk, Adebayo and Derek Willis (seven points, five rebounds), and that lineup was energetic from the start. Briscoe's absence allowed coach John Calipari to use several combinations that were encouraging, though he quickly noted that it's still early.
"I told them after the game, they're a November team," he said. "I don't want my team in November to look like it's January or February. ... We're a ways away from where we need to be."
The Wildcats should remain atop the rankings through next weekend, with their only major upcoming test on Monday against Arizona State in the Bahamas.
IN THE HOUSE
Former Kentucky standout and NBA veteran Tayshaun Prince was among the crowd for the Thanksgiving eve matinee. Prince thanked fans for their support during his time here before looking up at a video of the latest Wildcats in the NBA.
Cleveland State: Visits Duquesne on Sunday in its final Showcase game.
Kentucky: The Wildcats wrap up play in the Showcase on Friday night against UT Martin in the first meeting between the schools since Nov. 26, 1994, when they rolled to a 124-50 win.