In keeping with the Caribbean setting, Kentucky conch-ed Arizona State 115-69 Monday night.
In doing so, Kentucky and point guard De’Aaron Fox made history. Kentucky reached the century mark in points for the third straight game, something that hadn’t happened for a UK team since Joe B. Hall’s national champions of 1977-78.
Four straight? That last happened in 1970-71 when Kentucky scored triple-digit points in five straight games (Feb. 15, 20, 22 and 27, plus March 1.).
Speaking of triples, Fox posted only the second triple-double in Kentucky history by scoring 14 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dealing out 10 assists. Chris Mills had the only previous triple-double in UK history (19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Austin Peay on Dec. 27, 1988).
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“I didn’t even know how long it’s been,” Fox said, “but it felt good. Honestly, it may be my most efficient game shooting-wise. So that’s what I feel good about.”
Fox, who came into the game having made only one of 14 three-point shots, hit his only attempt from beyond the arc. He made six of nine shots.
Ten assists seemed inevitable in a game Kentucky shot 53 percent (11 of 28 from three-point range). But Fox’s 11 rebounds were a revelation and an answer to UK Coach John Calipari’s call for more board work by the guards.
“They’ve been telling me to play harder,” Fox said. “I’ve been lackadaisical. Like he (Calipari) says, I’m always casual.”
Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley, a former star point guard himself, saluted Fox.
“He was on his way to (a triple-double) at halftime,” he said. “I think we had nine defensive rebounds at halftime, and he had eight. He’s really, really, really talented.”
On Sunday, Hurley said his team had to limit turnovers and not indulge in poor shot selection. Each would fuel Kentucky’s devastating transition game.
Arizona State turned the ball over, especially early, and low-percentage shots throughout.
With its fast-break in high gear, five other UK players joined Fox in scoring double-digit points. Malik Monk led with 23 points. Isaiah Briscoe added 20 points and seven assists. Bam Adebayo had 12, Derek Willis 11 and Wenyen Gabriel 10.
“As a competitor, you feel a little shell-shocked in these moments,” Hurley said. “I thought they were spectacular.”
Hurley went so far as to compare the current Cats to the UK team that started the 2014-15 season with 38 straight victories.
“I would certainly put them in the same class,” Hurley said. “They’re a little bit different. Maybe a little more perimeter-oriented, not as overall big as that team was. But how quickly the game moved, we haven’t seen anything like that.”
UK Coach John Calipari was not willing to compare this team to the 2014-15 team.
“Got a lot of wins to go to beat that team,” he said.
Hurley, the former Duke point guard star, knew this was possible. When asked Sunday if Kentucky’s size was cause for concern, he chuckled and said, “There’s a lot of concern. You can start there if you’d like.”
In the first half, Kentucky was so dominant in so many facets of the game that it was hard to prioritize. Was superiority in Facet 6 more important than in Facet 12?
Kentucky led 58-30 at intermission, and the first half didn’t seem that close. It marked the fifth straight game UK scored 50 or more points in the first half.
The Cats made more than half their shots (23-43), dominated the rebounding (30-14), shared the ball (18 assists on 23 baskets) and repeatedly reduced Arizona State’s offense to low-percentage three-point heaves. Almost half of the Sun Devils’ shots were from three-point range (17 of 35).
So UK’s 28-8 advantage in points from the paint was no surprise. Arizona State also fueled UK’s transition offense with turnovers (11 in the half). The Cats enjoyed edges of 18-5 in points of turnovers and 13-0 in points from the fast-break.
The half was practically a highlight reel for Kentucky. Briscoe immediately showed there would be no lingering effects from what Calipari had called the “butt bruise” that sidelined the team’s leader the last two games. He scored seven of his nine fist-half points before the second television timeout.
Briscoe even hit his only three-point shot. He came into the game one-for-seven from beyond the arc.
Fox, who had made only one of 14 three-point shots earlier this season, made his only attempt from beyond the arc. It came with 1.7 seconds left in the half and set the halftime score.
Kentucky’s superiority was never more in evidence than a one-minute stretch late in the half in which the Cats scored four baskets. Monk answered Calipari’s call to not be overly dependent on the three-pointer, by shot-faking, then driving to a sweet pull-up.
Then Monk scored on the fast-break, eluding a defender with a precise layup off the glass.
Briscoe scored on the break thanks to a Euro step. Then Fox scored on a put-back.
Only Sunday, for the benefit of the UK fans at practice, Calipari told Hawkins to make an outside shot. Hawkins, who came into the game 0-for-7 from beyond the arc, hit a three-pointer with 1:50 left.
Everything worked as the current Cats joined the Fabulous Five as the only UK teams to open a season with victories by 22 or more points in the first seven games. It worked well enough to evoke thoughts of the 2017 Final Four, which, coincidentally, will have Arizona State as one of its hosts.
Hurley could envision seeing Kentucky again in April.
“If anybody was watching that,” he said of the beat-down, “I’m sure they feel that that team has the chance to go the distance.”
No. 11 UCLA at No. 1 Kentucky
12:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS-27)