A youth-versus-experience angle could have served to give Friday’s finale of a humdrum Bluegrass Showcase some pizzazz.
With sophomore leader Isaiah Briscoe sitting out a second straight game, Kentucky started four freshmen.
Tennessee Martin started four seniors, who presumably would be hardened to handle the team’s three-road-games-in-five-days schedule, and, if fans of basketball drama got lucky, use their wiles to challenge Kentucky’s fabulous freshmen.
Kentucky’s 111-76 victory was a case of youth being served. Freshmen scored UK’s first 30 points of the second half.
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That onslaught propelled Kentucky to a bit of history that only the oldest of fans put in perspective. The latest edition of Kentucky basketball became the third UK team to open a season with six straight victories by 21 or more points.
The 1932-33 Wildcats also won their first six games by 21 or more points. The 1947-48 Kentucky team won its first seven games by 24 or more points (average margin of victory was 40.4 points).
When asked to put in perspective the Cats joining the Fabulous Five in elite company, Coach John Calipari quipped, “This may be the ‘Fabulous Nine.”’
One of the graybeards, senior Mychal Mulder, explained how UK’s daring young men seemingly win with ease.
“I just feel the talent level we have, it’s just so dominant and just so obvious,” he said. “I feel that will really push us over.
“We have a high level of talent and a high level of competition in our group, so I feel that mix is a little bit dangerous.”
In terms of blowout victories, this Kentucky team is two shy of doing something no UK team has done: win the first eight by 21 or more points.
“I feel we stack up well with some of the best teams that have come through here,” Mulder said, “when it comes to talent and when it comes to fight and hard work and dedication.”
Malik Monk led all scorers with 26 points. He also had seven assists. He might have made not one, not two but three of the game’s most memorable plays.
On back-to-back possessions early in the second half, Monk found himself alone in transition. On the first, he wound up a windmill dunk that thrilled the crowd and his teammates.
“You just see him windmill so lackadaisical,” Dominique Hawkins said. “It’s incredible.”
On the second, Monk shot a smile at the UK bench before dunking over his shoulder.
“He’s the most exciting athlete I’ve played with,” Hawkins said.
Backcourt mate De’Aaron Fox scored 16 points.
Bam Adebayo had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, both career highs. Wenyen Gabriel added a career-high 15 points.
Sacha Killeya-Jones became a fifth UK freshman in double figures. He scored a career-high 12 points.
UT Martin, which lost 86-83 at Ole Miss on Nov. 11, fell to 5-2. The Skyhawks’ record against current members of the Southeastern Conference fell to 1-39. The only victory was at Mississippi State: 65-41 on Dec. 12, 1981.
A 13-2 advantage in made free throws helped give Kentucky a 53-38 halftime lead.
UT Martin committed 14 fouls in the first half.
Though playing the third road game in five days, UT Martin kept pace with Kentucky’s vaunted speed. The teams were even in fast-break points in the first half with six each.
More than once, Kentucky’s transition defense did not get back and set up in time to prevent a UT Martin score.
This was never more apparent than mid-way through the first half when Bam Adebayo dunked on the fast-break. Public address announcer Patrick Whitmer was still giving his full-throated BAM!!! call when UT Martin’s Kedar Edwards was dunking at the other end six seconds later.
UT Martin stayed within single digits of Kentucky through the game’s first 14 minutes. UK missed five of its first six three-point shots against UT Martin’s sagging defense. At one point, Calipari used a lineup of four shooters — Monk, Fox, Mulder and Derek Willis — with Adebayo.
That combination did not stay on the court long. But eventually, Kentucky found the range. In one stretch, UK made 12 of 18 shots in expanding its lead to 47-29.
With UT Martin playing its sixth game in a 14-day span, the second half figured to be a war of attrition. Depth was on UK’s side. So was UT Martin committing its seventh foul before the first television timeout.
Kentucky reached the century mark — with 8:14 left — on an all-freshman collaboration, as Killeya-Jones laid in the shot that gave UK a 101-54 lead. A pass from Fox set up Killeya-Jones. Fox re-directed a pass from Gabriel, who could have gotten credit for a hockey assist on the play.
No. 1 Kentucky vs. Arizona State
When: 7 p.m. Monday
What: Atlantis Showcase
Where: Imperial Arena at Atlantis Resort, Nassau, Bahamas