Three observations from Kentucky’s 108-51 romp over Clarion in the Cats’ exhibition opener:
1. Steal and sprint
Several stats stood out Sunday night, but this was a big one: Kentucky scored 38 points off turnovers. (Clarion scored zero points off turnovers.) UK scored 34 fast break points, many of those coming off steals -- the Cats had 14 steals -- and many of those turning into slams at the other end of the floor.
As you may have heard, this is a quick Kentucky team. Point guard De’Aaron Fox is lightning fast. As quick as advertised. Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe are also quick. As a team, this particular edition of Cats can get up and down the floor in a hurry, which is likely to be the mode of operation for 2016-17.
John Calipari said afterward the defense needs work and I’m sure he’s right. There’s a long, long way to go. Clarion isn’t a D-1 basketball school. Still, I thought UK’s ball pressure and transition game was pretty darn good, especially for a first game.
2. Bam the man
All the attention given to the possibility of a three-guard lineup featuring Fox, Monk and Briscoe has overshadowed (just a bit) Kentucky’s inside players heading into this season. Bam Adebayo jumped out of that shadow on Sunday.
The freshman big man scored 13 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished an assist, made a steal and blocked a shot in just 19 minutes on the floor. He had just one turnover.
Adebayo’s biggest asset may be his ability to run the floor, which fits in nicely with this team. A couple of his baskets came when he trailed fast break and followed up misses. He’s definitely an active player around the rim on both ends of the floor.
Nor is he lacking for confidence. Told that he looked comfortable on the floor, especially for a first game, Adebayo said, “I feel comfortable in anything I do.”
3. Ok, what about the three guards?
Calipari didn’t start the three-guard lineup. Monk began the game on the bench while Fox and Briscoe were in the backcrout, joined by Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Willis in the frontcourt. Calipari said that for right now playing all three guards at the same time would mess up his frontcourt rotation.
The coach did start the second half with Fox, Monk and Briscoe on the floor together. The trio blended nicely. The Cats outscored the visitors 25-13 over the first eight minutes of the second half.
After not taking a shot and scoring just one point, but contributing five assists in the first half, Briscoe finished with 11 points and 11 assists. He had three steals and even hit a wide open three-pointer from the right corner, much to the delight of the crowd.
Calipari’s approach to the three guards has already been interesting. He didn’t even start practicing them together until early last week. He wanted Briscoe and Fox to go against each other every day in practice. Now it appears he will slowly work them in together with the rest of the team. It will be an intriguing process to follow.
Kentucky basketball’s next five games
Nov. 6 Asbury (exhibition)
Nov. 11 Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 13 Canisus
Nov. 15 Michigan State (Champions Classic in New York)
Nov. 20 Duquense