In Kentucky’s opening game, freshman big man Bam Adebayo was foul prone. He committed two fouls in the first 43 seconds, which put him on pace for 111 fouls in a 40-minute game.
Afterward, UK Coach John Calipari said he had worked with Adebayo for a week on defending without fouling.
Against Canisius on Sunday, Adebayo did not foul until the 16:25 mark of the second half. He had only two fouls in his 27 minutes on the court.
Not so coincidently, Adebayo’s production increased dramatically. After five points and one rebound against Stephen F. Austin, he had a double-double against Canisius: 14 points and 11 rebounds.
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“I’m bigger than most people, so they’re going to call it different for me,” said Adebayo, who UK lists as 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds. “I just try to adjust.”
When asked how the game is called differently for big men, Adebayo said, “it’s different when I bump somebody than somebody who is like 50 pounds lighter. Because it looks like I’m bumping hard, but I’m really not.
“But I’m not worried about the referees. I’m worried about playing with my teammates and having fun.”
Of Adebayo avoiding fouls, Calipari said, “Better. Better.”
But the UK coach reminded that fouling can impact Kentucky on the offensive end, too. Adebayo posted up too low, something Calipari attributed to not wanting to get fouled.
“Well, you want to get fouled,” Calipari said.
De’Aaron Fox said necessity led to his ability to use either hand when finishing drives to the basket.
“I broke my left thumb my freshman year in high school,” said Fox, who is naturally left-handed. “I was out for, like, four weeks. That helped me. I started to eat with my right hand and I started to brush my teeth with my right hand.”
Kentucky will be playing its third game in five days against No. 12 Michigan State. “It will be hard,” Calipari said.
Since Calipari arrived in 2009, Kentucky has a 17-2 record when playing three games in five or fewer days.
The losses were against UConn/Kemba Walker (29 points, six assists) in 2010 Maui Invitational finals and to Michigan State in 2013 in Chicago. Both times UK was playing the third game in the sequence.
In SEC tournaments, Kentucky has had a 16-2 record under Calipari. Again, the losses came in the third game: to Vandy in the 2012 finals and to Florida in the 2014 finals.
Adebayo expressed confidence that Kentucky is ready to face a ranked opponent.
“I think our team is ready to play anybody,” he said. “We have heart. We have guts.”
When asked if a career-high 21-point night represented his best game for Kentucky, Isaiah Briscoe demurred.
“No,” he said. “I was just doing whatever I needed to do to keep my team in the game.”
Calipari lauded Briscoe’s impact.
“He just willed us when we were dying,” the UK coach said. “And just said, ‘Look, I’m not settling. I’m going to get something at the rim.’”
Only Duke is ahead
According to UK’s media notes, Calipari has a won-loss record of 107-11 as the coach of a team ranked No. 1. That would be 118 games as coach of the No. 1 team.
Among active coaches, only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has coached a No. 1 team in more games. His record as coach of a No. 1 team is 190-28.
De’Aaron Fox’s 12 assists against Stephen F. Austin tied for the fourth-most by a UK player in the Calipari era. Tyler Ulis had 12 at South Carolina last season.
The only higher assist totals by a UK player in the Calipari era are 16 by John Wall against Hartford on Dec. 29, 2009, and 14 by Wall against UNC Asheville on Nov. 30, 2009, and Ulis against LSU on March 5, 2016.
Doug Sirmons was the lead referee. It was the first Kentucky game he had worked since ejecting Calipari at South Carolina on Feb. 13 of last season.
Besides the usual fan grumbling about the officiating, there was no incidents.