Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 93-59 demolition of Duquesne on Sunday night:
1. A chance for Mychal Mulder to get his foot (and his shot) in the door
It’s no secret that despite its 4-0 start, this Kentucky team has struggled from behind the arc in the early going of 2016-17. The Cats were just five-of-18 from three against Stephen F. Austin on opening night. They were four-of-16 against Canisius, seven-of-21 in the Madison Square Garden mauling of Michigan State. And Malik Monk accounted for all seven of the triples against the Spartans.
Even Sunday night, UK connected on just seven of 26 from beyond the arc in the 34-point rout of the Dukes. Nearly half of those threes came from Mychal Mulder, who on this night was a Calipari curveball as the first sub off the bench and proved ready for his close-up. Mulder ended up scoring a career-high 13 points in his 20 minutes. Mulder made five of 11 shots. More importantly, he drained three of his eight three-point attempts. He could turn out to be the wild card in Calipari’s already stacked deck.
The trey has been Mulder’s calling card since he arrived on campus as a junior college transfer. Playing behind Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe, Mulder didn’t get much of a shot last season. This year he’s behind Briscoe, Monk and De’Aaron Fox, but given UK’s wobbles from three-point land, Calipari is opening the door for Mulder to seize some playing time.
To capitalize, Mulder can’t just shoot the three. He has to play defense and rebounds, areas he’s been working on, he said Sunday. And Cal said he saw the senior take a step forward in confidence. After missing a couple of shots, Mulder didn’t hang his head. Instead, he had the confidence to let it rip again -- and connect.
2. Feed the Flintstone
Calipari said that in the post-Champions Classic practices feeding the post had been a point of emphasis. That goes back to an old Cal adage, that if you don’t have a post presence you are something of a fraud. And it’s not as if UK lacks a post player. It has Bam Adebayo, the 6-10 muscle man down low who, when not in foul trouble, can score from the block.
Sunday, the Cats brought the emphasis from the Joe Craft practice court to the Rupp Arena floor. Adebayo made five of eight shots and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. With 12:17 left in the first half, he executed a Bam slam while being fouled, then made the three throw for a three-point play. At the 8:28 mark, he hit a perfect hook shot from the left block. At the 6:11 mark, he scored in the lane using his left hand.
How much better is Adebayo now than say three weeks ago? “I’d say way better,” he said Sunday. “I’m just in the gym every day with KP (Kenny Payne) trying to get better.”
3. Better glass work
One fly in Kentucky’s winning ointment has been board work. The Cats were outrebounded by eight by Stephen F. Austin in the opener. They did outrebound Canisius by three, but lost the boards to Michigan State by four. So after the first three games, Kentucky was -9 in rebound margin, extremely uncharacteristic of a John Calipari team.
Sunday night, the Cats did a better job of crashing the glass. They outrebounded the Dukes by 17 (49-32). Their offensive rebound margin of 39.0 was much better than the 22.5 ORP in Madison Square Garden.
Adebayo’s eight rebounds led the way. Point guard De’Aaron Fox may have sported a new hairdo and missed three of his eight free throws -- “I told him to go back to the other hairdo,” Calipari joked. “I don’t know what you did, just go back to the other” -- but he also grabbed seven rebounds. “Here’s a kid we’re counting on a lot of stuff from him,” Calipari said.
Mulder grabbed four rebounds, including three on the offensive end. Wenyen Gabriel, who made his first collegiate start, had three offensive rebounds in his 22 minutes. And though Derek Willis was credited with just three boards in his 15 minutes, the senior appeared to be more aggressive going to the glass.
Kentucky men’s basketball 2016
Stephen F Austin