UK Men's Basketball

UK freshmen got eye-opener in first big game. Here’s how past Calipari stars fared.

Photo slideshow: No. 4 Duke blows out No. 2 Kentucky

RJ Barrett scored 33 points and Zion Williamson added 28 in an explosive debut by Duke’s touted freshmen, and the fourth-ranked Blue Devils beat No. 2 Kentucky 118-84 on Tuesday night in the season-opening Champions Classic.
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RJ Barrett scored 33 points and Zion Williamson added 28 in an explosive debut by Duke’s touted freshmen, and the fourth-ranked Blue Devils beat No. 2 Kentucky 118-84 on Tuesday night in the season-opening Champions Classic.

Two staples of John Calipari’s teams at Kentucky: they start each season with several prominent players who are low on experience but bring high expectations, and they play another highly ranked team relatively early in the schedule.

That was, of course, the case again Tuesday night, when a No. 2-ranked UK team filled with five-star freshmen matched up with No. 4 Duke at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.

It was the first time in Calipari’s 10 seasons at Kentucky that his team has actually opened the season against a ranked opponent, though that first game against a ranked foe has come during the first week of the season over each of the past seven years.

In other words, an immediate matchup with a worthy opponent is the norm for Calipari’s Cats.

The results of Tuesday night’s game — a 118-84 shellacking at the hands of the Blue Devils — were far from normal. Duke’s point total and margin of victory were the most ever — in any kind of game — against a Calipari-coached UK squad. His previous nine teams had never given up more than 78 points or lost by more than seven points in their first game of the season against a ranked foe. (The Cats’ 84 points Tuesday night were also the most ever in the first game of a season against a ranked opponent in the Calipari era.)

Despite all the youth, Calipari’s UK teams are 6-4 in their first game against a ranked opponent with three of those victories coming against top-10 teams. The other losses before Tuesday came last season to No. 4 Kansas, in 2013 to No. 2 Michigan State and in 2012 to ninth-ranked Duke — all in the Champions Classic event.


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Some interesting freshman-centric facts from the Cats’ first games against ranked opponents in the Calipari era:

Calipari has started a total of 29 freshmen in those 10 games (with Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro all starting against Duke on Tuesday). That means he’s started only 21 non-freshmen in such games.

Keldon Johnson led UK with 23 points Tuesday night — the sixth time a freshman has led the Cats in scoring in their first game vs. a ranked opponent. The non-freshmen to lead UK in scoring in such games were junior Patrick Patterson (19 points vs. North Carolina in 2009), and sophomores Doron Lamb (17 points vs. Kansas in 2011), Dakari Johnson (11 points vs. Kansas in 2014) and Tyler Ulis (18 points vs. Duke in 2015).

Only two previous UK freshmen have scored more points in such games than Johnson did Tuesday night. Julius Randle scored 27 against Michigan State in 2013, and Brandon Knight had 24 against Washington in 2010. Malik Monk matched Johnson’s total of 23 points against Michigan State in 2016.

Tyler Herro, surprisingly, led the Cats in rebounds with nine boards Tuesday night. Only two UK players in the Calipari era have grabbed more rebounds in such games: Terrence Jones (17 against Washington in 2010) and Julius Randle (13 against Michigan State in 2013).

Herro also led UK with five assists Tuesday night. John Wall had the most by a UK freshman in his first game against a ranked opponent with seven assists against North Carolina in Calipari’s first season. De’Aaron Fox had six assists against Michigan State in 2016.

Kentucky was bad Tuesday night, but no individual player turned the ball over more than three times. Some of Calipari’s biggest stars can’t say the same. Julius Randle and Brandon Knight both had eight turnovers in their first game against a ranked opponent, while John Wall had seven, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Marquis Teague had six, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bam Adebayo had five.

Skal Labissiere remains the only UK freshman in the Calipari era to foul out in his first game against a ranked opponent (in 13 minutes, no less). Fifteen others have accumulated four fouls in such games, including Ashton Hagans and EJ Montgomery on Tuesday night.

This Kentucky team is unlikely to face another ranked opponent until Dec. 22, when the Cats play North Carolina (currently ranked No. 8) in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.

UK freshmen in first game vs. ranked team

#4 Duke 118, #2 UK 84MinFG3ptFTRebAstStlBlkTOPFPts
Ashton Hagans*191-30-10-01400342
Keldon Johnson*308-161-36-1042110323
Tyler Herro*344-111-65-595021114
EJ Montgomery224-60-00-06100348
Immanuel Quickley190-30-26-61100126

Date: Nov. 6, 2018 (first game of season)

#4 Kansas 65, #7 UK 61MinFG3ptFTRebAstStlBlkTOPFPts
Kevin Knox*378-133-61-270211020
Nick Richards*131-40-00-09001332
PJ Washington*240-30-02-22304432
Hamidou Diallo*304-110-36-754103314
Quade Green*212-70-22-21200016
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander273-70-10-04330636

Date: Nov. 14, 2017 (third game of season)

#2 UK 69, #13 Michigan St 48MinFG3ptFTRebAstStlBlkTOPFPts
Bam Adebayo*262-30-02-35002546
Malik Monk*348-177-110-061002123
De’Aaron Fox*293-100-26-646113212
Wenyen Gabriel241-20-12-26231034
Sacha Killeya-Jones40-10-00-20000110

Date: Nov. 15, 2016 (third game of season)

#2 UK 74, #5 Duke 63MinFG3ptFTRebAstStlBlkTOPFPts
Skal Labissiere*133-50-01-24101257
Jamal Murray*387-172-30-255403216
Isaiah Briscoe*315-81-11-331201112
Isaac Humphries121-30-00-03102132
Charles Matthews70-00-00-00010000

Date: Nov. 17, 2015 (third game of season)

#1 UK 72, #5 Kansas 40MinFG3ptFTRebAstStlBlkTOPFPts
Karl-Anthony Towns*184-80-01-28304039
Trey Lyles191-50-22-24010014
Devin Booker172-81-60-01300015
Tyler Ulis171-20-12-22010204

Date: Nov. 18. 2014 (third game of season)

#2 Michigan St 78, #1 UK 74MinFG3ptFTRebAstStlBlkTOPFPts
Julius Randle*359-140-19-15131008427
James Young*347-163-112-542101019
Aaron Harrison*181-70-51-21201223
Andrew Harrison*383-61-14-413004411
Dakari Johnson141-20-00-35000042
Dominique Hawkins60-00-00-00000010
Marcus Lee10-00-00-01000000

Date: Nov. 12, 2013 (third game of season)

#9 Duke 75, #3 UK 68MinFG3ptFTRebAstStlBlkTOPFPts
Nerlens Noel*385-110-06-882431316
Archie Goodwin*375-121-25-864014416
Willie Cauley-Stein62-30-00-10000134
Alex Poythress379-121-21-280002220

Date: Nov. 13, 2012 (second game of season)

#2 UK 75, #12 Kansas 65MinFG3ptFTRebAstStlBlkTOPFPts
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist*354-91-33-594135312
Anthony Davis*336-80-12-660273414
Marquis Teague*334-91-13-723006412
Kyle Wiltjer30-00-00-00000010

Date: Nov. 15, 2011 (second game of season)

#8 UK 74, #13 Washington 67MinFG3ptFTRebAstStlBlkTOPFPts
Terrence Jones*364-130-28-14172142416
Brandon Knight*2810-171-63-640108424
Doron Lamb282-100-22-21101146
Stacey Poole80-20-10-00000010

Date: Nov. 23, 2010 (fourth game of season)

#5 UK 68, #10 UNC 66MinFG3ptFTRebAstStlBlkTOPFPts
DeMarcus Cousins*152-70-01-55001145
Eric Bledsoe*172-70-25-61200449
John Wall*325-101-25-757307216
Daniel Orton180-20-00-04112140

Date: Dec. 5, 2009 (eighth game of season)