Freshmen scored all but 15 of Kentucky’s points in Saturday’s 103-100 victory over North Carolina. That spoke volumes about how players a year removed from high school can play lead roles.
“The freshmen are no longer freshmen,” UNC Coach Roy Williams said. “I can remember 100 years ago, I’d recruit a kid and say, ‘Once every four years, I will take you to Hawaii.’ And now, high school teams go to Hawaii.
“I mean, Jesus. They get more exposure. Play better competition. I recruited a kid who played 61 games in a summer. You never see that. So freshmen, they are freshmen because of their age and how many classes they’ve gone to. But their basketball ages are much higher than they used to be in the old days.”
De’Aaron Fox scored a career-high 24 points for Kentucky. Fellow freshman Malik Monk scored 47, which equaled the sixth most for any UK player.
When asked how soon it took him to realize the game’s big-stage atmosphere, Monk said, “As soon as we walked to the court. It was crazy. It was a packed house. Everybody was going crazy.”
Both coaches spoke of the high quality of play.
“I don’t like it, but it was a heck of a college basketball game if you don’t care who won,” Williams said. “But I do care who wins.”
UK Coach John Calipari suggested the game in Las Vegas and last month’s game in the Bahamas served as a treat to fans who miss the games in Maui.
“I’m not going to Hawaii,” he said. “There you go. As long as I’m coaching Kentucky, I’m not.
“When I leave, the first thing the next coach can do is take a trip to Hawaii.”
Aside from these made-for-TV events, the chances of UK-UNC games as part of a new home-and-home series seem slim.
The ACC is going to a 20-game league schedule in 2019-20. That will coincide with ESPN launching an ACC Network. Presumably, the ACC will expand its league schedule from 18 to 20 games to grant ESPN’s wish for more programming for the ACC Network.
With the ACC also involved in a so-called challenge against Big Ten teams, North Carolina would be hesitant to add an annual game against Kentucky, Williams said.
The CBS Classic provides the chance for UK-UNC games on semi-regular basis.
Like all coaches, Calipari prefers home games. Neutral sites are the next best thing.
But on Thursday, Calipari recalled his younger days as a coach when UMass played most of its games away from home. Calipari recalled 27 road games.
“Because I was nuts,” he said. “I was 33, 34 years old and I didn’t care. … I like all home games now as I get older.”
Television needs are a factor in where and when Kentucky plays, Calipari said. The game against North Carolina also served as good preparation for the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s the postseason,” Calipari said. “What I care about is the postseason here. It’s not game to game. It’s the postseason. That’s what we play for. … Obviously, you’ve got to play some road games. I’d like to play our league road games. That’s it. But you can’t do it.”
The T-Mobile Arena opened on April 6. The 650,000-square-foot arena cost $375 million to build. Among its features are 44 luxury suites, two party suites, more than 24 private loge boxes and two VIP entrances.
The double-header involving UK-UNC and Ohio State-UCLA was the arena’s second basketball event. The debut came last weekend when Duke played UNLV. The arena seats 18,000 for basketball.
Other events in the building so far include concerts by Carrie Underwood, George Strait, Mary J. Blige and Maxwell.
A judgment in the case involving allegations of academic fraud in North Carolina’s athletic department remains elusive. UNC appeared before a sub committee of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in late October.
No date has been set for a hearing before the Committee on Infractions. No evidence has surfaced about Williams or his staff being involved in academic fraud.
Former UK player Josh Carrier was on a flight from Cincinnati to Las Vegas on Friday. His new job was the reason.
Carrier, who played for UK from 2001-02 through 2004-05, is in his first year as an assistant coach for the women’s team at Northern Kentucky University. The team, which has a 2-7 record, plays three games in Las Vegas: Monday against Portland State, Tuesday against Arkansas State and Wednesday against Southern Miss.
Carrier and Coach Camryn Whitaker said it was unlikely they could get enough tickets for the NKU team and traveling party to attend the UK-UNC game.