Three things from Kentucky’s 87-64 opening-night win over Stephen F. Austin:
1. The defense will come, but it’s not there yet
John Calipari has said he thinks this year’s model should be a really good defensive team by, say, February. It’s not February yet, and the UK head coach wasn’t all that thrilled by the way his team performed on the defensive end in a 23-point victory over a program that has been to the NCAA Tournament each of the past three seasons.
UK-Stephen F. Austin box score
The visiting Lumberjacks shot 44.2 percent from the floor, including 47.8 in the first half. When asked about De’Aaron Fox’s record-breaking 12 assists, Calipari shot back that Fox needs to play better defense. When asked about Derek Willis’ hot start, Calipari was quick to mention that Willis gave up some offensive rebounds. In the player interviews, Isaiah Briscoe reported that in Cal’s post-game remarks to the team, the coach focused on defense.
If you take away SFA’s five-of-19 showing from three-point range, the visitors were 18 of 33 from two-point range. That’s 54.5 percent, which surely isn’t to the coach’s liking.
“Defensively, I think we did OK,” Briscoe said. “Coach sees it from a coach’s standpoint and he said we need to get a lot better at defense. That’s going to be one of the things were going to work on in practice.”
2. They know how to share the rock
One thing the Cats did very well Friday night was share the basketball. Freshman De’Aaron Fox set a record for most assists by a player in his UK debut with 12. He broke the mark previously held by Kyle Macy, whom Fox admitted he had never heard of. “He was pretty good,” a media member told Fox.
As a team, Kentucky finished with 21 assists on its 33 field goals. Dominique Hawkins contributed three assists. Briscoe was credited with two. The assist/turnover ratio was good, as the Cats turned it over just 13 times. Not bad for a first game and against a team that, according to Calipari, was trapping on the wings.
“I think this is an unselfish team,” Briscoe said. “We all play for each other ,and that’s going to take us to the next level.”
3. One game down, two more to go in this five-day stretch
It’s a quick turnaround to Sunday’s 6 p.m. game against Canisius on ESPN2. Because there will be no media availability Saturday, we were told to ask Calipari questions about Sunday’s game on Friday. But Cal was quick to say that he had not watched any tape on Canisius. It’ll be the opening game for the Golden Griffins, who went 14-19 last season.
Meanwhile, next Tuesday’s opponent in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden, Michigan State, lost a tough one, 65-63, to Arizona in the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu. Freshman Miles Bridges led the way for the Spartans with 21 points. A 6-foot-7 forward out of Flint, Bridges made nine of 19 shots and had seven rebounds. He did miss five of six three-point shots. He also the only Spartan in double figures.
Overall, Michigan State shot 43.1 percent from the floor. Tom Izzo’s club was eight of 25 from three-point range and a disappointing five of nine from the foul line for 55.6 percent. Just nine free throws? Izzo can’t be happy about that.
“So we’re going to be playing a mean dog up in New York,” Calipari said.
Cansius at Kentucky
When: Sunday, 6 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington
TV: ESPN2 with Dave O’Brien and LaPhonso Ellis
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt