UK Faces Duke in Champions Classic
John Calipari didn’t need an alarm clock on Monday morning.
All he needed to get him out of bed was the realization that Kentucky would be playing Duke the next day.
“I woke up: ‘Six o’clock! What’s going on?’ ” Calipari said. “I mean, I’m excited to coach in the game.”
The matchup will take place in the annual Champions Classic, held this year in Chicago’s United Center at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Both teams come into the game having tallied a pair of blowout wins over the weekend. Kentucky is ranked No. 2 in both polls, Duke No. 5 by the Associated Press and No. 4 by coaches.
|Kentucky vs. Duke|
|Tue., Nov. 17 - 7:30 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | Duke
Digital Gameday Program
|UK||2015-16 Team Stats||Duke|
The game, based on brand names alone, will draw a lot of interest. UK fans aren’t shy about making their feeling about the Blue Devils known and the two teams share a long history, playing five games against each other in the NCAA Sweet 16 or later.
The history, however, isn’t recent. Though UK and Duke nearly met in last year’s national-championship game, they have played only once since 2001. That means the young Cats know little of The Shot or the Comeback Cats.
“I don’t think they – like, you know what’s crazy?” Calipari said. “The history that these guys know is like two years. You’re going to ask them, ‘Hey, do you remember the 19 … Do you remember (Christian) Laettner?’ Who’s he? These guys don’t know.”
In other words, fans might be bringing some baggage to the game. Players, not so much.
“We’re just coming out there playing the game, not really thinking too much of that,” Tyler Ulis said.
That’s the way Coach Cal prefers it. The Cats have enough to contend with facing a Duke team still working on its identity after losing Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook off last year’s national title team.
“(Mike Krzyzewski) is mixing up their defense like I’ve never seen them, which is they’re playing 1-3-1, a 2-3, a 1-2-2, a 1-2-2 press,” Calipari said. “Sometimes fakes, sometimes they come. They spread out a 1-3-1. He’s trying everything to see if he figures out what he likes for the team. I imagine they’ll do it in the game.”
There might be some guesswork about what UK and Duke will do with young rosters, but one thing Coach Cal sees as a certainty is that both teams will be aggressive attacking the basket.
“You’re going to have two driving teams,” Calipari said. “Two teams are going to drive, drive, drive. So, the game will probably take 2.5 hours because there’s going to be fouls. We’re going to foul and they’re going to foul. Both teams are driving the ball. His team’s driving the ball; my team’s driving the ball.”
That approach makes sense considering the makeup of both rosters.
UK’s offense is built around the talents of dynamic guards Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe, while Duke relies on Grayson Allen, Derryck Thornton, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard in much the same way. Allen is averaging 27 points, four rebounds and four assists two games into his sophomore campaign.
“Both teams have great guards,” Ulis said. “They have Grayson, those other guys, Matt, and people like that. We have me, Jamal, Isaiah, Charles (Matthews), and we’re all just going to come out there and try to play as hard as we can, play to the best of our ability and try to get the win.”
The game might be dictated by perimeter play, but don’t ignore the interior. UK might have the on-paper advantage with Southeastern Conference Co-Freshman of the Week Skal Labissiere, but he’s in for a test.
“Skal will have trouble with (Marshall) Plumlee,” Calipari said. “Plays very physical. It’s going to be a challenge for him. This is a grit game, a grind-it game. They do a great job of wedging on rebounds. When they shoot the ball, they will wedge you all the way under to the cheerleaders. So, if you’re not ready to fight, they’re going to get offensive rebounds”
Another potential x-factor is the matchup on the wing, where Duke uses 6-foot-9 freshman Brandon Ingram. UK, meanwhile, has primarily played a three-guard lineup or gone with 6-foot-9 junior Derek Willis.
“Well, obviously I know him pretty well,” Calipari said of Ingram. “We recruited him. Terrific player. Long, active, can score the ball. Derek will probably be a pretty good matchup for him. Two guys that size and mobile. Both can score, so that could be a matchup that would be a good thing for us.”
Maybe so, but UK will find out for sure on Tuesday night.
“I don’t know if we can win the game; I just love the challenge,” Calipari said. “Let’s see where we are right now. And that’s what I want them to feel. We’ve been a month and a half and it’s a brand new team. We’re going to see – and here’s what I would say: They listen to everything I say. Now we’re going to find out if I’ve been saying the right stuff.”
Skal Labissiere Shines in Rout of NJIT
Labissiere scored 18 of his points before halftime to go along with four rebounds and two blocks. His 18 points in the first half tied for the second-most points by a UK player in the first half in the John Calipari era, behind only Aaron Harrison’s 19 first-half points vs. Robert Morris on Nov. 17, 2014.
The Haiti native finished with five rebounds and a team-leading three blocks. He was a perfect 7 for 7 from the floor in the first half and 4 of 4 from the foul line. Labissiere finished the game 10 of 12 from the field.
Meanwhile, freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe made his regular-season debut after missing the season opener with a bruised knee. He was impressive in his first showing with 11 points and a team-high 12 rebounds.
Briscoe’s 12 rebounds were part of a strong night on the glass. UK outrebounded NJIT by 31, the most lopsided rebounding margin of the John Calipari era. The 54 total rebounds were the fourth most in Calipari’s seven seasons.
Also of note:
• Junior forward Derek Willis capitalized on his first career start with 11 points, all coming in the second
Murray Marvelous in Season Opener
Freshman guard Jamal Murray led the Wildcats with 19 points, eight assists and three steals. He became the first UK player with at least 19 points, at least eight assists and at least three steals in a single game since John Wall posted 21 points, 11 assists and three steals vs. Rider on Nov. 21, 2009.
Junior Derek Willis made the most of a career-high 28 minutes with a career-best 14 points and three assists.
Other highlights included:
• UK shot 56.0 percent from the field, its best mark in a season opener since a 61.3-percent clip vs. Marist
Wildcats in the Champions Classic
Labissiere Named SEC Co-Freshman of the Week
The Port-au-Prince, Haiti native averaged team highs in points (17.5) and blocks (3.0) for the week. In the
Labissiere then exploded offensively with a 10-for-12 performance from the field and a perfect 6-of-6 day
He’s the second freshman under Calipari to score 25 or more points in one of his first two career games. Terrence Jones was the other first-year player to turn the trick in the season opener in 2010-11.
This is the first such honor of Labissiere’s career. With Labissiere’s Freshman of the Week accolade, Calipari