UK Sprints Past Thorobreds in Final Exhibition

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Skal Labissiere was a non-factor in eight first-half minutes, but Kentucky was up big anyway.

Leading 51-20 behind the potent point-guard duo of Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, John Calipari could have chalked the game as a bump in the road for Labissiere and moved on.

He had the opposite reaction.

“You know what I told him at halftime?” Calipari said. “We're throwing it to you every time, I don't care. You can go 1-15 or can you go prove you're the player you are.”

Labissiere responded like the potential No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick he is. The 6-foot-11 freshman bounced back from a scoreless first half to score 22 points after halftime in UK’s dominant 111-58 win in its second and final exhibition at Rupp Arena on Friday night. 

“He came and talked to me, told me that they were going to go to me a lot when the second half started,” Labissiere said. “I just had to believe in myself and go out there and just play hard.”

As hard as he played, there was a little more than pure effort that went into Labissiere’s explosion.

The 6-foot-11 Port-au-Prince, Haiti native put on an incredible display of post scoring. Social-media jokes were made about Labissiere needing to wear goggles to complete his Kareem Abdul-Jabbar impression with his jump hooks, while a baseline spin move and lefty finished invoked memories of DeMarcus Cousins.

“We just said, ‘We’ll get you the ball the second half,’ ” said Alex Poythress, who looked much like his pre-injury self with 13 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. “ ’We expect you to score.’ And that’s what he did. We got him the ball in scoring positions and he put the ball in the basket.”

Perhaps the only person among the 21,238 in attendance at Rupp Arena on Friday night was Labissiere himself.

“It’s something that we work on every day at the beginning of practice with the bigs with Coach Kenny Payne,” Labissiere said. “We work on that every single day, worked on it all summer. So I just have to learn how to get more comfortable doing it in games. I was a little bit more comfortable tonight.”

And in fact, Labissiere credits effort again for all the moves he was able to make.

“I just gotta get focused during games and establish position before I get the ball so I can catch it and then make my move,” Labissiere said.

Labissiere scored 40 points in two exhibition wins in which UK averaged 114 points, flummoxing defenses with all the attention demanded by Murray (20 points vs. KSU) and Ulis (15 points, four assists, one turnovers). On the offensive end anyway, Labissiere seems to be ahead of his recent big-man predecessors, proving right what his coach has been telling him all along.

“Just listening to him when he talks to me sometimes, I’m like, ‘Really, you have that much confidence in me?’ ” Labissiere said. “It feels good. It makes me work even harder because I know he’s expecting a lot out of me.”

After the game was over, Labissiere approached his coach. He didn’t do it to reflect on his remarkable final 20 minutes. He did it because that first half was still on his mind.

“He came in after, ‘Coach, I apologize for my first half, I'm sorry.’ ” Calipari said. 

“I wasn’t satisfied with myself at all in the first half,” Labissiere said.

Labissiere’s head was in the right place, but there was no need for that in Calipari's mind.

“I said, ‘Don't be sorry,’ ” Calipari said. “ ‘Be better. Get better.’ ”

Labissiere is one step ahead of you, Cal.

“I still have a lot to work on,” Labissiere said. “Still have a lot to work on, still have a lot to get better at. We have two practices tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to that to see what I need to work on.”

Wiith UK set to take the floor for its regular-season opener on Nov. 13 against Albany, fans are surely looking forward to seeing the results, too.