UK Opens Regular Season Against Albany on Friday
Only a few months in to playing for John Calipari, Jamal Murray has learned his coach is intense.
Now a day away from his collegiate debut, Murray sees regular-season Coach Cal turns it up a notch.
“In practice we see Coach get a little bit anxious now, little frustrated when we don’t do something he wants us to do,” Murray said. “So, we’re definitely locked in to what we need to do.”
|Albany at Kentucky|
|Fri., Nov. 13 - 7 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | AU
Digital Gameday Program
|UK||2014-15 Team Stats||AU|
Calipari isn’t giving his team much of a choice in the matter.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Coach Cal applied the pressure in a big way. Aware of the importance of a stretch of three games in five days that begins with the Wildcats’ season opener at 7 p.m. on Friday against Albany, Calipari wanted to test his team before letting their legs recover on Thursday.
“I tried to stretch them out,” Calipari said. “I tried to really get them to where they were winded, ready to let go of the rope and then start a new drill to see where we were. It was, you know – we’re coming together.”
Junior Marcus Lee reported the same. Bonding through what Lee called “one of the hardest weeks we’ve had,” the Cats are starting to take the wheel, as Calipari has been known to say.
“We’re definitely getting at each other more,” Lee said. “We’re keeping each other more accountable and we’re trying to make that so Coach Cal doesn’t make us be accountable. We kind of make it by ourselves as a team.”
That might be true in practice, but games that count in the win/loss column are another story, especially when they come in bunches the way the first three will.
“We're gonna figure out – there's gonna be a lot of answers that we'll have answered,” Calipari said.
Coach Cal sounded a little like the late Yogi Berra in issuing that sound bite. And with the tests awaiting Kentucky Friday against Albany, Saturday against NJIT and Tuesday against Duke, the quote offers wisdom similar to Berra as well.
“The first team has most of their team back, an NCAA Tournament team. NJIT has their whole team back and their three year players that beat Michigan on the road,” Calipari said. “Obviously, Duke is Duke. We're not just pressing for conditioning, running for conditioning now. We're trying to play to win, how we're gonna play, and it'll show.”
In two exhibitions, UK piled up a combined 228 points behind a three-guard lineup, suggesting nearly limitless offensive potential for the 2015-16 Wildcats. Calipari, however, is spending more of his time thinking about the other end of the court.
“I'm more concerned defensively than I am anything else,” Calipari said. “Wanna press but I just know me. If we're giving up layups or open shots, we will not press.”
These first three games are the time for Coach Cal to begin to determine whether pressing long term is a viable option.
“We're trying to pick you up and play and make it hard and difficult,” Calipari said. “We're not trying to give up layups and easy shots. We've worked on it but we're still – our transition defense when our point guard drives, we're out of balance. We don't get back. That's when you're giving up layups. We'll have to see.”
On top of the full-court pressure question, there are plenty of other topics to watch.
How about Alex Poythress? How is his recovery from a season-ending knee injury last December progressing? If this week is to be believed, the answer is “pretty darn good.”
“He's been great the last few days,” Calipari said. “He's becoming the athlete. Like, if he doesn't try to dunk the ball I stop practice. 'Why didn't you try to dunk that ball?' And he's missed some dunks where I'm like, 'That's fine.' He's blocking some shots, he's running. I'm not sure whether I'll start him this game, but it doesn't matter.”
And what about the final spots in UK’s rotation? Can Charles Matthews and Derek Willis make a case to steal minutes? Calipari is certainly doing everything in his power to help them.
“I’m knowing where I’ve got to take Charles and Derek,” Calipari said. “It’s pretty clear to me what I have to do as a coach to get them to be the best version of themselves.”
And what of Calipari’s latest crop of talented newcomers? Are they ready to take center stage? Their cool demeanor suggests that to be the case, though Isaiah Briscoe might have to wait to do it. He's day to day with a bruised knee.
“We’re all excited to be here and excited to start our journey as a team,” Murray said. “Got a ways to go, but we’re focused on tomorrow.”
“They’re pretty battle tested,” Lee said. “I’ve seen them in many games and this is what AAU and high school prepares you for. It’ll definitely bring you back to your old days where you play four or five games in a row. So it should be fine.”
Final answers won’t come until March and April, but the initial ones in November can be pretty telling.
“We’re not going to know if how we’re trying to play is absolutely the right way until we start playing games, and real games,” Calipari said. “Like, all right, my thing is let’s get down 10 and see who we are. It’s as important as that, because every game we play someone is excited about playing us. There’s a chance, just like Columbia, you’re down 11-0 to start the game. Let’s figure out what we are now.”
Kentucky Dominates in Exhibition Routs
Kentucky was simply dominant in its exhibition routs of Ottawa and Kentucky State, winning by an average margin of 56.0 points per game.
The Wildcats showed glimpses of their overall balance, winning the first game with a strong shooting performance from the outside before rolling past Kentucky State with a powerful inside game. A common thread in both victories was an uptempo offense and a smothering full-court press on defense.
Among the biggest takeaways from the two tune-ups:
• Four players averaged in double figures and nine players averaged 7.5 points or more
• UK shot a scorching 58.5 percent from the field in the two wins, including 43.2 from behind the arc
• The Wildcats averaged 10.0 steals per game, 9.5 blocks and 26.0 assists
• Freshman guard Jamal Murray was sensational in both games, averaging 21.0 points and 12.0 rebounds. The freshman nearly posted a triple-double in the Ottawa game with 22 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists
• Freshman forward Skal Labissiere was UK’s second-leading scorer in the exhibition games with a 20.0 average. He scored all of his game-high 22 points in the second half of the Kentucky State game
• Sophomore guard Tyler Ulis posted a double-double against Ottawa with 17 points and 10 assists
• Junior forward Alex Poythress, who is returning from a season-ending knee injury in 2014-15, appears to be rounding back into form after averaging 10.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in the two exhibitions
• Junior forward Marcus Lee just missed out on a double-double against Kentucky State with nine points and 11 rebounds
First of Four in Hoophall Miami Invitational
Friday’s regular-season opener vs. Albany is the first of four games in the Hoophall Miami Invitiational. UK will also play NJIT (Saturday), Boston (Nov. 24) and South Florida (Nov. 27 in Miami) as a part of the multiteam event.
Wildcats in Season Openers
Kentucky is 93-19 in regular-season openers, including a perfect 6-0 mark under head coach John Calipari.