Freshman De’Aaron Fox had no objection to how the marquee guard matchup in Saturday’s Kentucky-Kansas game is portrayed. He conceded that Kansas senior Frank Mason III has a clear advantage in experience.
“He just has savvy I don’t have,” Fox said Friday. “He’s been in big games like this. I’ve only played in a few.
“At the end of the day, you have to go out there and play.”
UK Coach John Calipari has spoken repeatedly about wanting the players to become empowered. Presumably, that starts with the point guard. This process continues, as evidenced most recently at Tennessee on Tuesday when Calipari threatened benchings if the ball was not passed to post man Bam Adebayo.
“It’s still learning how to play … ,” Fox said of the empowerment. “Learning what he wants exactly. As a point guard, you want to be an extension of the coach on the court. It’s a relationship with the coach so you can read his mind and he can read yours.”
Fox downplayed the notion that an ankle he turned last weekend against South Carolina affected his play at Tennessee or might hinder him against Kansas.
“I’m all right,” he said. When asked if he was 100 percent, Fox paused and said, “I don’t know what 100 percent is.”
Calipari was anything but cryptic when he missed the ankle as a factor in Fox’s play at Tennessee.
“Nah,” the UK coach said, “his decision-making was horrendous.”
Bragg and Bam
On Thursday night, Kansas announced the indefinite suspension of Carlton Bragg Jr. The suspension was not related to the police investigation into an alleged rape in the KU team’s dormitory, Coach Bill Self said.
“Carlton is suspended for a violation of team rules,” Self said in a statement. “This violation is not connected to the alleged incident in McCarthy Hall on Dec. 17.”
Bragg was a five-star prospect coming out of high school. Rivals.com rated him the 14th-best prospect in the class of 2015. Although expected to star, he has yet to blossom as a college player, averaging 4.5 points in two seasons for Kansas.
Bragg’s suspension further weakens an already depth-deprived team. Even with Bragg, Kansas only had seven healthy players averaging more than 5.2 minutes.
That would seem to heighten UK’s already-stated emphasis on getting the ball to Adebayo in the low post.
But Calipari pointed out that Kansas could conserve its limited resources (and avoid foul trouble) by playing a zone or, say, a triangle-and-two defense with a defender in front and behind Adebayo.
“I’m just worried about how we’re playing,” Calipari said. “We don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Defensively, Calipari has put a priority on limiting the times an opponent drives into the lane. Repeatedly, opponents have driven to the basket in recent games.
Earlier this season, Calipari said the Cats could be his best defensive team by February. When reminded of that statement, he quipped, “Are you sure I said February? I may have said March.”
A moment later, Calipari added, “We’re a ways away.”
Fox suggested that inconsistent officiating makes on-ball defense more difficult. “They let you play” in some games, he said. “Touch fouls” are called in other games.
“In high school, the referees were more consistent,” Fox said. “You’d know what they were going to call and when they were going to call it.”
Isaiah Briscoe grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds at Tennessee and played his customary competitive game. But his unsure play on offense at times (he didn’t get to the foul line for a second straight game) prompted a question about needing a confidence boost.
“He’s a confident kid,” Calipari said. “He just has to have more energy in these games. He’s been zapped. It’s a long season, folks.”
Calipari welcomed the NCAA Selection Committee’s upcoming announcement of its top 16 teams. Although he earlier bemoaned the “clutter” of outside influences that can distract players, the committee announcement on Feb. 11 doesn’t fit this category.
“No,” Calipari said. “I like transparency.” He said he liked teams getting a sense of their seed position a month before Selection Sunday.
Calipari called for teams on the top three seed lines to be able to choose what regions they played in. Left unasked was how to resolve a case of four teams wanting the same region.
‘Homeless Allen Iverson’
ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg likened Kansas senior guard Frank Mason III to a Hall of Famer.
“I call him Homeless Allen Iverson,” Greenberg said. “A poor man’s Allen Iverson. He’s so tough, so physical, so aggressive. Attacks so hard.”
UK like Gonzaga?
When asked about SEC basketball, ESPN anchor Rece Davis said, “They’re not good as a whole. Kentucky reminds me a little of Gonzaga. They have to do all their business out of league.”
Gonzaga is a member of the West Coast Conference along with Saint Mary’s, Brigham Young, Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara, Pacific, Portland, San Francisco and San Diego.
Ready to rumble?
Michael Buffer, the noted boxing ring announcer with the signature Let’s Get Ready to Rumble catchphrase, tweeted that he will attend the Kentucky-Kansas game.
His tweet read: “I AM COMING BACK 2 RUPP ARENA 4 #KUvsUK on ESPN Saturday 6:15 EST — A monster game! #LetsGetReadyToRumble CAN’T WAIT!!”
▪ Former Kansas Coach Ted Owens, who gave Calipari his start in the coaching profession, attended UK’s practice. So did former UK Coach Joe B. Hall.
▪ Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas and sideline reporter Maria Taylor will call the game for ESPN.