It didn’t take this season’s Kentucky team long to realize how potent a weapon speed could be.
The epiphany happened on the first play of the first scrimmage after UK Coach John Calipari decided to team freshmen prodigies De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk with Briscoe.
As Briscoe recalled Sunday, another freshman, Bam Adebayo, grabbed a rebound, threw an outlet pass to Fox who whipped the ball cross-court to Briscoe who re-directed a pass to a streaking Monk at the basket.
“It happened like bang-bang-bang,” Briscoe said. “And then we just looked at each other like, ‘If we can play like this, I don’t think nobody can stop us.’ Like the ball never touched the floor.”
Briscoe insisted that the speed and precision of this 94-foot zip impressed Calipari, the Hall of Fame coach with a national championship and multiple Final Four appearances on his résumé.
You’ve got to try to limit the amount of enthusiasm they have for playing.
Coach Bobby Hurley on Kentucky
“I think Coach was shocked at that point … ,” Briscoe said. “Boop-boop-boop-alley (oop)-dunk.”
Arizona State, which plays Kentucky on Monday here in what’s called the Atlantis Showcase, will try to slow Kentucky down.
Or as Coach Bobby Hurley said Sunday, “You’ve got to try to limit the amount of enthusiasm they have for playing.”
Hurley, whose prescription for beating UK echoed comments made by several opposing coaches already this young season, made no claim about it being easy to slow down the Cats.
“It’s a hard thing to do playing against a team as good as they are,” he said.
Arizona State, which scored 127 points in its last game, likes to play fast. But Hurley all but said playing fast against Kentucky is suicidal. He stressed the need to limit turnovers and take high-percentage shots. Turnovers and poor shots fuel Kentucky’s fast-break.
“If you take a bad shot, that demoralizes your teammates,” Hurley said. “There’s a tendency not to run back as hard.”
Calipari said he expected Arizona State (4-2) to sag its defense into the lane, invite perimeter shots and make it a half-court grinding kind of game.
Calipari welcomed the prospect of Arizona State succeeding in that effort.
When asked how the go-go Cats could handle a grind-it-out game, Calipari said, “We need to see it.”
During a workout Sunday, Calipari told fans UK needed a close game. The fans disagreed.
But Calipari said he wants to see what players can and can’t do under the added stress of possession-by-possession competition. Who can make the shot? Who can inbound the ball? Who can execute with tension in the air?
“Who do we finish with and how do we finish?” Calipari said. “Who can make the play? Who cannot — absolutely not — be in the game? Till you’re in a close game, you don’t know.”
Of course, Kentucky won each of its first six games this season by at least 21 points. Only two other UK teams have done that to start a season: 1932-33 and 1947-48. Only the latter won a seventh straight game in such a fashion before losing at Temple 60-59.
“Believe me, I don’t want these kind of scores,” said Calipari, who all but predicted there will be close games, even overtime games, to come this season.
Briscoe voiced confidence that Kentucky can handle a grind-it-out game.
“Oh, we’re ready for that,” he said. “We’re absolutely ready for that.”
Not only is Kentucky physically fast, the Cats are mentally fast, too, Calipari said. He said he does not draw up plays and strategies on a board as much as he usually does.
“Coaches will tell you, usually you don’t trust just talking,” he said. “You want to use the board.”
But the Cats are “nimble mentally,” Calipari said. “Which means we can play randomly.”
For instance, Calipari said he spoke in a huddle this season about a triangle inbounds play from the baseline. Monk immediately asked if the play was to be used against a zone or man-to-man defense.
“So he’s thinking,” Calipari said. “Some other (UK) guys don’t think as fast, but they’re smart.”
Laettner game reprise
With Hurley coaching Arizona State, the inevitable reference to Duke’s victory over Kentucky in the 1992 East Region finals occurred.
“It’s a part of me I’ll always remember,” said Hurley, who was the Duke point guard in the game famously won by Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beating jumper. “Those years were the best years of my life.”
Hurley put Duke’s Final Four victories over UNLV and Kansas the previous year ahead of the so-called Laettner game in his personal list of greatest basketball memories.
“It’s right up there in terms of will to win, the desire to win,” he said. “I hope that my team has the will and desire to win that both those teams had that day.”
’92 Duke vs. current Cats
When asked how the 1992 Duke team would fare against this season’s No. 1-ranked Kentucky team, Hurley said it was hard to compare teams from different eras.
Hurley cited the recent play in which Monk threw a fast-break pass off the glass that Fox dunked.
“No one would try that at Duke for me,” Hurley said with a laugh.
With that said, Hurley seemed to say the 1992 Duke team would beat the current Cats.
“We had all the right pieces,” he said. “It’s hard to say, but I like our chances always.”
Calipari said he would like Kentucky to play a regular-season game in the Bahamas every year. He also hinted that UK might play FIBA teams in a series of exhibitions here in the summer of 2018. … Dave Neal and Dan Dakich will call the game for ESPN2.
No. 1 Kentucky vs. Arizona State
When: 7 p.m. in the Atlantis Showcase in the Bahamas
Records: UK 6-0; Arizona State 4-2
Series: UK leads 4-0
Last meeting: UK won 72-58 on Dec. 12, 2015, in Lexington
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1