Five things to know about Kentucky basketball’s first regular season opponent Stephen F. Austin, the Cats’ foe on Friday night:
1. Coming off three straight NCAA Tournament appearances
The Lumberjacks have won the Southland Conference four straight seasons and captured the conference tournament the past three years. As the No. 12 seed in 2014, SFA upset No. 5 seed VCU 77-75 in overtime in the South Regional. The Lumberjacks lost to UCLA 77-60 in the Round of 32. In 2015, again as the No. 12 seed, Stephen F. Austin lost to Utah 57-50 in the South Regional. Last season, as the No. 14 seed, SFA upset No. 3 seed West Virginia 70-56. It then came within a tip-in of upsetting No. 6 seed Notre Dame, losing 76-75 to the Irish.
2. Most of the players from that team are gone
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After going 28-6 last season, the Lumberjacks lost their top three scorers -- Thomas Walkup (18.1 points per game), Demetrious Floyd (13.8) and Clide Gerrard (13.3). Walkup is now playing with the Windy City Bulls of the D-League. Trey Pinkney, who averaged 3.7 assists per game last season, is a grad assistant with the Lumberjacks. The team also lost C.J. Williams to a heart condition.
Kentucky faces “little purple monster” in opening game
Ty Charles, a junior guard, is back after averaging 9.4 points as a sophomore las season. Charles has missed most of the pre-season with a rotator cuff problem, however. T.J. Holyfield, a sophomore forward who averaged 7.5 points per game last year, is also back. Dallas Cameron, a guard who was the team’s sixth man last year, is another returnee. SFA did pick up some junior college stars, including Leon Gilmore, Isaiah Traylor and Josh Huntley, the latter a 6-7 forward who has missed time because of a concussion. Aaron Augustin and Kevon Harris are a pair of freshmen guards who could make an impact.
3. The Lumberjacks also have a new coach
After going 89-14 overall, including 53-1 in the Southland Conference, head coach Brad Underwood was hired by Oklahoma State to replace Travis Ford, who is now at Saint Louis. Underwood had replaced Danny Kaspar, who left for Texas State. To replace Underwood, SFA hired Kyle Keller, an assistant on Billy Kennedy’s staff at Texas A&M. Before that, Kelley served nine years as an assistant under first Eddie and then Sean Sutton at Oklahoma State. He spent three years on Bill Self’s staff at Kansas. Keller and Self had worked together as assistants at Oklahoma State. Keller spent the past five years in College Station, helping the Aggies to a Sweet 16 berth last season. Keller was also head coach for two seasons at Tyler Junior College.
4. SFA did play an exhibition game
The Lumberjacks beat Houston-Tillotson 93-72 last week. Keller’s team shot an even 50 percent from the floor and made eight of 22 three-point shots. Holyfield scored 20 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished six assists in the win. Ivan Canete, a 6-4 guard who transferred to SFA from Palm Beach State College, scored 14 points and contributed five assits. Cameron scored 13 points. And Samuel Nieminen scored 11 points. Nieminen is a 6-7 forward who played for the Helsinki Basketball Academy for Hanno Mottola. He averaged 6.9 points four rebounds as a senior there.
5. The Lumberjacks have faced marquee teams on the road before
Last season, SFA opened with a 97-55 loss at Baylor. Four days later, it lost 70-60 at Northern Iowa. Just before its conference schedule, it lost 80-73 at Arizona State and 76-66 at UAB. In 2014-15, it lost 81-63 at Xavier and 67-51 at Baylor. It then upset Memphis at Memphis 64-52. Its 2013-14 team, lost 72-62 at Texas.
Stephen F. Austin at Kentucky
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington
TV: SEC Network with Dave O’Brien, Doris Burke and Brooke Weisbrod
Stephen F. Austin roster
Leon Gilmore III