John Clay

After recent slow starts, Kentucky gets postseason off to a fast one

Fox on Cats' fast start: We just came out with energy

Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox talks about the team's fast start in the 71-60 win over Georgia in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
Up Next
Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox talks about the team's fast start in the 71-60 win over Georgia in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

They were up early and on their toes. Anxious? Maybe. Excited? Definitely. Friday wasn’t just one more boring regular-season early tip-off of a game for these Kentucky Wildcats. This was different. This was the start of the postseason. This was something brand spanking new.

“For a lot of us,” said Bam Adebayo, the freshman center, “this is our first tournament.”

As a result, he said, “Guys were into it.”

It showed. Where in recent outings Kentucky had started games with a rousing thud, the Cats started Friday’s quarterfinal round of the SEC Tournament like they just popped out of the toaster, ripping to an early 14-5 lead on the way to a 71-60 victory over Georgia.

They didn’t do it with offense. Heavens no.

Why Malik Monk, the kid dynamite who became the first freshman to lead the SEC in scoring since LSU’s Chris Jackson back in 1989, scored all of a season-low two points, Two points. He averages 21.2. Monk took just seven shots, making one, that a dunk off a fast break. He tried all of one three-pointer and missed that — badly.

“I didn’t feel out of sync,” he said afterward. “I just couldn’t get anything to go down.”

His teammates weren’t a whole lot better. The Cats shot 38.3 percent, lowest shooting percentage since being drilled by 22 points at Florida on Feb. 4. Only this time, Kentucky didn’t get drilled. Instead, it drilled the Dawgs. And it did so with defense.

The same Bulldogs who shot 49.2 percent in an overtime January loss at Rupp and 50.2 against the Cats in a valiant though losing effort in Athens, shot just 33.3 percent on Friday, the worst shooting by a UK opponent since Duquesne (30.4) way back on Nov. 20.

J.J. Frazier, the mighty-mite who torched John Calipari’s club for 36 points at Stegeman Coliseum in February, scored all of 15 points in Bridgestone Arena. He made four of 17 shots. He failed to hit a three-pointer. He felt the squeeze of the Kentucky defense from the opening tip to the final horn.

“We just wanted to corral him,” said UK guard De’Aaron Fox.

Yante Maten, the junior forward averaging 18.4 points who scored 22 in Lexington, made just three of 11 shots on the way to 12 points. He had to fight for all 12.

“It was the defense,” Calipari said afterward, “that won the game for us.”

Actually, it was the energy on defense. From the jump, the Cats looked engaged, focused. Georgia’s first offensive possession, the Bulldogs committed a shot clock violation. The Dawgs missed nine of their first 11 shots, 13 of their first 17. The tone was set.

“Because they have so many young players,” said Georgia Coach Mark Fox of the Cats, “their defense gets better throughout the year.”

Remember back in the preseason when Calipari said he’d be disappointed if his defense wasn’t “the best” — in the country or among his UK teams; didn’t really matter — by February. He was disappointed.

“You sure I didn’t say March?” he joked in February when asked about it.

Now it’s March. And defense matters in March. To be sure, you have to put the ball in the basket. You can’t win if you don’t score, but you also have to defend. Defense wins championships. It’s an old boring cliché because old boring clichés happen to be true.

Don’t worry about Monk’s funk. He’ll be fine. Yes, after scoring six points at Texas A&M last Saturday, he’s failed to reach double digits in consecutive games after not being held under double digits all season. Now that he’s had a game inside Bridgestone, however, the guess here is his brick-laying will soon cease.

“We all know what Malik can do,” said Dominique Hawkins, the senior guard. “We’re not worried.”

Friday, the Cats showed what they can do when they are excited and motivated and playing full of energy. After Thursday’s practice across town at Belmont University, Calipari said he wanted to see a team that swarmed. Friday, he saw swarm.

“Now,” predicted a smiling Adebayo, “we’re ready to roll.”

After scoring season-low two points in Kentucky's 71-60 win over Georgia in the quarterfinal round of the SEC Tournament, Malik Monk said he needs to change his routine to address the problems.

Kentucky senior guard Dominique Hawkins talks about his drive down the lane for an attempt at a highlight reel dunk during UK's 71-60 win over Georgia in the SEC Tournament.

Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe after scoring 20 points to lead UK to a 71-60 win over Georgia in the SEC Tournament on Friday.

Saturday

Kentucky vs. Alabama

What: Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinal game

Where: Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

When: 1 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: No. 1 seed Kentucky 27-5, No. 5 seed Alabama 19-13

Series: Kentucky leads Alabama 109-37

Last meeting: Kentucky beat Alabama 67-58 on Feb. 11 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Kentucky men’s basketball 2016-17

Date

Opponent

UK

Opp

Dec

Rec

SEC

11/11/16

Stephen F Austin

87

64

W

1-0

11/13/16

Canisius

93

69

W

2-0

11/15/16

vsMichigan State

69

48

W

3-0

11/20/16

Duquesne

93

59

W

4-0

11/23/16

Cleveland State

101

70

W

5-0

11/25/16

UT-Martin

111

76

W

6-0

11/28/16

vsArizona St

115

69

W

7-0

12/3/16

UCLA

92

97

L

7-1

12/7/16

Valparaiso

87

63

W

8-1

12/11/16

vsHofstra

96

73

W

9-1

12/17/16

vsNorth Carolina

103

100

W

10-1

12/21/16

@Louisville

70

73

L

10-2

12/29/16

@Ole Miss

99

76

W

11-2

1-0

1/3/17

Texas A&M

100

58

W

12-2

2-0

1/7/17

Arkansas

97

71

W

13-2

3-0

1/10/17

@Vanderbilt

87

81

W

14-2

4-0

1/14/17

Auburn

92

72

W

15-2

5-0

1/17/17

@Miss St

88

81

W

16-2

6-0

1/21/17

S Carolina

85

69

W

17-2

7-0

1/24/17

@Tennessee

80

82

L

17-3

7-1

1/28/17

Kansas

73

79

L

17-4

1/31/17

Georgia

90

81

W*

18-4

8-1

2/4/17

@Florida

66

88

L

18-5

8-2

2/7/17

LSU

92

85

W

19-5

9-2

2/11/17

@Alabama

67

58

W

20-5

10-2

2/14/17

Tennessee

83

58

W

21-5

11-2

2/18/17

@Georgia

82

77

W

22-5

12-2

2/21/17

@Missouri

72

62

W

23-5

13-2

2/25/17

Florida

76

66

W

24-5

14-2

2/28/17

Vanderbilt

73

67

W

25-5

15-2

3/4/17

@Texas A&M

71

63

W

26-5

16-2

3/10/17

vsGeorgia (SEC)

71

60

W

27-5

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments