UK Men's Basketball

‘Crazy defense’ the difference in UK’s win over Michigan State

Kentucky made only 38.3 percent of its shots and handily defeated No. 13 Michigan State on Tuesday night.

“We did play crazy defense,” Isaiah Briscoe said in agreeing with a reporter’s question in the postgame news conference.

In the handshake after the game, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo attributed his team’s 69-48 loss to Kentucky’s defense.

“‘Your defense was better than us this game,’” UK Coach John Calipari said Izzo told him. “And that’s what it was.”

Michigan State made just 32.8 percent of its shots. That included 5-for-26 shooting from three-point range.

The Spartans struggled to establish scoring in the paint as reflected by shooting only nine free throws.

“We looked like a team that was an AAU team,” Izzo said. “Just went one-on-one.”

Izzo credited Kentucky’s defense. “I do think that is one of his better defensive teams,” he said. “They did a very good job.”

Happy homecoming

Briscoe, who grew up in Newark, N.J., enjoyed a homecoming. He scored 21 points for a second straight game.

“It feels good,” he said. “A lot of my fan base is from New York. It feels good to be in front of my fans and play well.”

Calipari pointed out how Briscoe is a different player than the fans saw on the high school level.

“Everybody who watched him in high school can’t believe he defends and rebounds like he does,” the UK coach said.

As he had in the preseason, Briscoe credited the increased comfort that comes with experience for his improved play as a sophomore.

“I know how to play the game better,” he said. “As far as college basketball and getting easy buckets when I’m tired, subbing myself out, making the right plays and not using as much energy. That all comes with experience. …

“I just feel like a totally different player.”

‘He’s fine’

For the second time in three games, foul trouble limited Bam Adebayo’s minutes and contributions. Rather than the reaching fouls that led to Adebayo playing only 15 minutes in the opener against Stephen F. Austin, this time the problems came on the offensive end.

Adebayo picked up three fouls with Kentucky in possession of the ball: two shoves while trying to establish post position and a charge.

Adebayo scored six points, grabbed five rebounds and committed five turnovers in 26 minutes.

Calipari dismissed the notion of being concerned with his freshman big man in the early stages of transitioning to college basketball.

“He’s fine,” Calipari said. “He made free throws (two of three). He dunked balls. He defended five positions.”

Do better

Calipari’s pregame concern about rebounding never materialized. Michigan State out-rebounded Kentucky 44-40. The Spartans had 13 offensive rebounds.

But State scored only eight second-chance points, and had two second-chance baskets through the first 25-plus minutes.

State’s supposed muscle made little difference in terms of getting to the foul line. The Spartans did not shoot a free throw until only 2:02 remained in the first half, and shot only four before intermission.

“Still got out-rebounded,” Calipari said when listing how Kentucky must aim to improve.

Through three games, opponents have out-rebounded Kentucky 116-107.

Calipari also pointed out another area in need of attention. “Our pick-and-roll defense still stinks,” he said. “They were going right down the middle for layups.”

Kudos for Gabriel

The scoring and flash of fellow freshmen Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox overshadowed a busy stat line for Wenyen Gabriel.

Gabriel had four points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals and no turnovers in 24 minutes.

“I thought Wenyen was great,” Calipari volunteered. “High motor. Hands on balls. Tipping balls.”

Depth charge

Before the game, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo used Kentucky to put his team’s depth in perspective.

“We’re going to have depth, but how good that depth is is always the key,” Izzo said on Monday. “We have depth until you look at Duke and Kentucky and see real depth.”

Michigan State’s reserves outscored Kentucky’s 26-7.

‘I love pressure’

Michigan State’s Nick Ward validated the promise Izzo saw in the opening-game loss to Arizona.

“We’re going to be able to go to him,” Izzo said.

Ward, a 6-foot-8 freshman, had eight points and six rebounds in 15 minutes against UK.

“I love pressure,” he said before the game. “I love the bright lights.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader