Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky basketball moves on to a New York state of mind

Three observations from Kentucky’s 93-69 win over Canisius on Sunday night:

1. Stumbling out of the gate isn't a big deal, not now

Kentucky’s slow start -- a 9-0 run gave the Golden Griffins a 29-23 lead with 5:43 left in the first half -- appeared more the product of a young team not totally prepared to play. Canisius led 9-2 early when John Calipari called a quick time-out just 3:17 into the first half. Isaiah Briscoe, the veteran, started the process of revving the engine from there.

“Isaiah was the man,” Calipari said.

At the end of the first half, the offense started clicking. Calipari’s club scored on the final 12 possessions to take a 44-35 lead into the locker room. Briscoe finished with 17 points in the first half. And even though the Cats missed all seven of their three-point attempts in the first half, they led by nine points.

Is three-point shooting a problem? Calipari objects to the idea that the Cats have a problem in that area, but UK was 0-for-7 in the first half. The home team then bounced back to hit four of nine treys in the second half. Malik Monk ended up making two of his six three-point attempts. Mychal Mulder was one of two, and Wenyen Gabriel was one for three. De’Aaron Fox missed all three of his shots from behind the stripe.

2. Glass game is lacking, which doesn’t sit well with the head coach

In Friday night’s season-opening win over Stephen F. Austin, Kentucky was outrebounded 36-28 by the Lumberjacks. On Sunday night, the Cats outrebounded a smaller Canisius by just three, 39-36. “We’re down five for the year,” Calipari said.

Bam Adebayo hjt the boards hard. The freshman center finished with his first double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. No other Cat snatched more than five rebounds, however. At the start of the second half, Calipari went with Gabriel over Derek Willis, who started the game, because the coach was unhappy with Willis’ rebounding. The senior finished with just two boards in 16 minutes.

What do the Cats need to do to get better on the glass? Cal answered by saying that he'll start by playing the guys who go to the glass. It’s not about technique or fundamentals. It’s about effort. If you rebound and defend, you will play. Calipari said he has several players who are equal in offensive ability, so playing time will come down to board work and defense.

3. On to the Big Apple for a date with Sparty

Kentucky will practice and travel Monday to New York for Tuesday night’s Champions Classic game against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.

Other than the final 10 seconds of the Michigan State-Arizona game, which Cal said he saw on television in the UK locker room on Friday night, the UK coach said he hadn’t seen the Spartans this season. Doesn’t matter. Tom Izzo has a young team, and Calipari saw plenty of State’s newcomers when he was out recruiting his own class of 2016.

The UK freshmen know the Michigan State freshmen as well. I asked Fox about Miles Bridges, MSU’s brightest new star who scored 21 points in a losing effort against Arizona.

“I know him pretty well,” Fox said. “Miles is a strong guy. He’s been playing the four. He’s been playing the two, three and four and he’s been putting up good numbers since he’s been at Michigan State. We just go out and play.”

“He’s an athletic wing,” Adebayo said of Bridges. “He can shoot it. He can dribble. But we’re working on us.”

It should be a terrific Tuesday.

Kentucky vs. Michigan State

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Madison Square Garden in New York

Event: Champions Classic doubleheader featuring UK-Michigan State and Kansas-Duke

TV: ESPN with Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and Maria Taylor

Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt

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