De’Aaron Fox’s 12 assists against Stephen F. Austin Friday night broke Dirk Minniefield’s Kentucky record for an opening game: 11 against Butler on Nov. 27, 1982. (Record-keeping on assists only dates back to 1971-72 season.)
One assist in particular drew a big crowd reaction. Fox flipped a behind-the-back pass to fellow freshman Malik Monk, who swished a three-pointer. With UK Coach John Calipari repeatedly asking the freshmen guards not to be “casual” in their play, the pass surely was risky.
“Honestly, I was stuck,” Fox said with a winning smile. “I didn’t know what I was about to do. I saw Malik.”
Fox acknowledged the riskiness of the pass.
Never miss a local story.
“If it went out of bounds, I probably wouldn’t have played the rest of the game,” he said.
Much-less flashy components of winning basketball concern Calipari. Defense and rebounding are what the UK coach does not want to see being performed casually.
Fox pleaded guilty to casual defense.
“It’s off the ball,” he said. “Off the ball I do get kind of lazy. I haven’t gotten back-doored yet. If I do get back-doored, I do feel I’m quick enough to make up for it.”
But, Fox added, there are consequences to casual play.
“(Opponents) will look at film and be like, he’s pretty lackadaisical when he’s off the ball,” Fox said. “… Malik and I aren’t used to playing hard all the time. We’re getting back to how we were in high school when we were not playing hard all the time.”
As for Monk, Calipari pointed out that he did not grab a rebound in the 20 minutes he played.
“Come on, come on,” the UK coach said of the zero rebounds. “If you can put your head on the rim, you can go in and rebound the ball.”
During the game, Stephen F. Austin Coach Kyle Keller complimented Isaiah Briscoe on his improved play. Keller was an assistant coach at Texas A&M last season, so he could gauge Briscoe’s improvement.
“I thanked him for the compliment,” Briscoe said. “That made me feel good. I’ve been working hard and it’s showing. And I’ll continue to work and grow as a player.”
Briscoe said he was surprised by the in-game compliment from the opposing coach.
“I just remember looking over and he said, ‘Briscoe, you got a lot better,’” the UK guard said. “I was, like, ‘Appreciate it, coach,’ and kept playing.”
Freshman big man Bam Adebayo committed four fouls in 15 minutes of play. He picked up his first two fouls 43 seconds into the game. That translated into only two minutes of play in the first half.
“We talked for a week about not fouling,” Calipari said. “He is so big, when he moves, he fouls.
“And I told him … just be aware. You’ve got to have high hands. You can’t be pushing in the back. You can’t have hands on people. You can’t go after a block you had no business getting.”
Calipari noted that Michigan State lost 65-63 to Arizona Friday. UK plays the Spartans on Tuesday in Madison Square Garden.
“So we’re going to be playing a mean dog up in New York,” he said.
There was a precedent for a team from the Southland Conference beating Kentucky. In 1989, Northwestern State won 85-82 at Kentucky.
That is the only time a Southland Conference team beat UK in six games.
Stephen F. Austin Coach Kyle Keller worked on the Texas A&M staff the last five seasons. He was on the A&M bench when Elston Turner scored 40 points to lead the Aggies to a victory at UK in 2012-13. That was one of only four home losses for Kentucky in John Calipari’s first seven seasons as coach.
Keller was not the only Stephen F. Austin staffer who had experienced Rupp Arena. Assistant head coach Jeremy Cox was a UK assistant when Billy Gillispie was coach.
UK plays again Sunday against Canisius. The start is scheduled for 6 p.m. EST. … UK improved to 95-19 in opening games. That includes 8-0 under Calipari. … Stephen F. Austin fell to 55-37 in opening games and 4-2 in the last six.