Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 111-76 win over visiting UT-Martin on Friday night:
1. The Schedule kicks it up a notch
John Calipari’s club has each of its first six games by at least 21 points or more. That hasn’t happened at this tradition-rich school since the Fabulous Five back in 1947-48. If you’re steeped in the history of Kentucky basketball, that’s a heady comparison.
“Part of that is who you play,” said Calipari shrugging off the stat.
For the Cats, the schedule know kicks it up a notch. Calipari now takes his club to the Bahamas -- something he didn’t seem real thrilled about Friday night -- for a Monday game against Arizona State. Next Saturday, high-scoring UCLA comes to Rupp Arena, followed by Valpariso, which features Alec Peters, a 6-9 senior who averages 25 points per game.
“You need to come out just to watch this kid play,” Calipari said Friday.
After a trip up to Brooklyn to play Hofstra, Kentucky jets out to Las Vegas where they’ll roll the dice against a North Carolina team that just tore through the Maui Invitational.
“North Carolina is really, really good,” Calipari said. “I only watched about seven minutes of it. I started sweating. I had to turn it off.”
So after six lopsided victories, are these young Cats ready for this?
“I don’t know,” said the coach. “We’ll see.”
2. A blistering offense
Kentucky hit the century mark for the second straight game, the first time that’s happened since 1992-93. This team beat Cleveland State 101-70 on Wednesday. It scored 111 points, most in the Calipari Era at UK, on Friday. That Rick Pitino-coached UK team beat Wake Forest 103-69 and Florida State 106-81 in back-to-back games of the NCAA Tournament to make the Final Four.
In a stretch of less than two minutes, Malik Monk scored 12 points. He scored to put UK up 69-44 with 14:50 left in the game. At the 14:30 mark, he dunked on a fast break off a UTM turnover. At 14:14, he dunked on a fast break off a UTM turnover. At 13:51, he scored while being fouled, then hit the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play. At 12:57, he scored on another drive, while being foul, then hit the free throw for another old-fashioned three-point play to pout UK up 81-46.
The freshman from Arkansas scored a career-high 26 points on the night. The best thing about that number? The personal-best came on a night when Monk made just two of his eight three-point attempts.
“I don’t think it’s any secret how athletic Malik is and he’s really improved his outside shot,” said UTM coach Anthony Stewart. “So, right now, the way he’s playing, it’s pick your poison. If you play back, he’s hitting the open shot, he’s making 3s. His midrange is really good. He’s making free throws and obviously he can really get to the bucket.”
Kentucky ended up shooting a season-high 55.4 percent from the floor. It was the fourth game in the first six in which the Cats have shot 50 percent or better. They shot an even 50 percent against Stephen F. Austin; 50.8 versus Canisius; 52.1 versus Cleveland State and now 55.4 versus UT-Martin.
On the night, Kentucky averaged 1.374 points per possession. That was also a season-high.
3. Want a reason to worry?
Of course you don’t, but here’s one anyway. Isaiah Briscoe missed his second straight game because of that back/hip injury. Calipari said the sophomore guard was to undergo an MRI on Friday night only because the trainers are surprised the New Jersey native is still hurting.
The hope is everything is ok and it’s just a minor setback. After all, Briscoe was off to a terrific start. He’s a veteran and a team leader. And on the court, his defense and ability to do some of the little things is invaluable. If Briscoe is out for an extended period of time, that could be a problem.
Derek Willis also suffered a sprained right thumb. Calipari said he hoped Willis wouldn’t be out long. The senior played just eight minutes on Friday night before being injured. He hit one of three shots, grabbed a rebound and blocked a shot.
On a happier note, Dominique Hawkins returned from the knee contusion in he suffered Wednesday, played a team-high 32 minutes and was credited with nine assists. Hawkins hit just one of five shots, but he had four rebounds and played his normal tenacious defense.
At one point, Hawkins stripped UTM’s Jacolby Mobley on the way up, only to have Mobley kick him in the mouth on the way down. Had that ever happened to the former Madison Central star before? No, he said.
“The first thing I thought of was Draymond Green,” said Hawkins smiling.
After all, Golden State’s star forward is notorious for kicking his leg out when he believes he’s in the process of being fouled. Lucky for Hawkins, he didn’t get hit where sometimes Green’s victims get hit.
Kentucky basketball 2016
Stephen F Austin