In Sunday night’s 93-59 victory over Duquesne, Kentucky continued to force the opposition to play Whack-A-Mole.
If one, two, three or more UK players didn’t get the opponent, then one, two, three or more teammates would.
Ten Kentucky players scored in the first half alone against Duquesne, which preseason magazines had picked to finish 12th (The Sporting News) or 13th (Blue Ribbon and Athlon) in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Mychal Mulder, who played only the final two minutes against Michigan State, contributed several silky smooth jumpers and finished with a career-high 13 points. He scored only 12 points all of last season.
Mulder, who is from Canada, acknowledged the disappointment of not playing against what is practically a neighbor school.
“I want to play,” he said. “It’s Madison Square Garden. You want to play in that game. Michigan State was a game I always dreamed of playing.”
Then, Mulder added, “I’m not focused on looking backward.”
That philosophy, in an entirely different context against Duquesne, encouraged UK Coach John Calipari.
“He made big strides today,” Calipari said of Mulder. “He made a shot or two. Then he missed two shots. Now, normally, we have all watched: He would never go make another shot until maybe the next game. He made one. He came off a side screen and he made a shot. That was a big step for him.”
The telling swish came on a catch-and-shoot from the left side in the second half.
“Shooting is a big confidence thing,” Mulder said. “If you’re confident, keep shooting. You’ll be fine.”
In the past, Mulder said, he did not have the chance to “heat up.” Against Duquesne, he did.
“It’s good coach appreciated that and took notice of that,” he said of re-heating after a few misses. “He was looking for that from me.”
Besides Mulder, four other Cats scored double-digit points. De’Aaron Fox led UK with 16 points. He also had seven rebounds and six assists.
Malik Monk, the shooting star of Tuesday’s victory over Michigan State, added 14 points. Isaiah Briscoe had 13 and Bam Adebayo chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds.
From a team standpoint, Kentucky added rebounding to its tools. The Cats, who came into the game having been outrebounded 116-107 in the season’s first three games, enjoyed a 49-32 advantage on the boards.
The constant for Kentucky remained defense. Duquesne did not get its 10th basket until only 12:21 was left. Overall, the Dukes made a season-low 30.4 percent of their shots.
“We’re kind of re-finding ourselves,” Duquesne Coach Jim Ferry said before the game.
That seemed especially true in terms of three-point shooting. The Dukes lost guards Micah Mason and Derrick Colter from last season. The pair made 36.3 percent of their three-point shots and were dubbed “one of the nation’s best three-point shooting duos” by The Sporting News.
Against UK, Duquesne made only five of 25 three-point shots.
As a 50-23 lead at intermission suggested, Kentucky dominated the first half. The Cats took the lead for good with 17:24 left, then steadily expanded the advantage.
UK’s defense again made scoring difficult. Duquesne made only six of 29 shots in the first half. The Dukes had only four points in the paint.
Rebounding, which had been “disappointing” according to associate coach Kenny Payne, was not a problem in the first half. Kentucky enjoyed a 26-18 advantage on the boards.
Duquesne had only one second-chance basket. Nakye Sanders had a putback with 11:50 left when two UK players got in each other’s way trying for a defensive rebound.
Evidence mounted that Kentucky will have plenty of potential contributors this season. Mulder had five points and four rebounds off the bench in the opening half.
Adebayo, who had struggled in foul trouble in two earlier games, had eight points and four rebounds in the first half. He posted up for scores on each side of the lane, feathering in baby hooks with each hand.
Isaac Humphries also had a baby hook off a post-up. Those scores were part of UK’s 22-4 advantage in points from the paint in the half.
Kentucky’s guards also contributed. Briscoe (nine points, five assists, three rebounds) and Fox (12 points, five rebounds and four assists) were flirting with triple-doubles going into halftime.
The first half got chippy down the stretch. Duquesne’s Ferry was hit with a technical foul. He protested a no-call when a collision with Adebayo left Sanders on the floor wincing in pain.
On UK’s next possession, Duquesne forward Eric James’ hard foul sent Briscoe to the floor. Replays showed James bump Briscoe as the UK player arose.
Willis, who set a goal of playing better defense this season, may have scored defensive points early in the second half. He hounded a Duquesne player into a turnover near mid-court. That led to a reach-back dunk by Monk.
When asked about the many weapons Kentucky possesses, Monk smiled.
“Too many,” he said facetiously. “I think too many. If somebody’s off, it’s going to be at least two more people on.
“I think that’s why we can be a very special team.”
Cleveland State at Kentucky
1 p.m. Wednesday (SEC Network)