This was the performance Kentucky fans thought they would get on Friday night; highly-touted freshman Skal Labissiere was nearly automatic from the field (10-for-12) en route to collecting 26 points, five rebounds, two blocks and a steal as the Wildcats blew out NJIT, 87-57, at Rupp Arena on Saturday.
“Skal” was especially hot early, going 7-for-7 (plus 4-for-4 from the charity stripe) in the first half.
The 5-star recruit from Haiti credited coach John Calipari for putting him in position to get going.
“He talked to me before the game and told me they were going to go to me early,” Labissiere said. “I just had to put myself in the right position to catch the ball and score.”
Saturday’s breakthrough followed a frustrating performance against Albany in the opener, when Labissiere finished with nine points on five shots.
“This is going to be a process,” Calipari said of his young players. “I am not a patient guy. I am going to hold them accountable.”
The turning point: NJIT had been hanging with Kentucky until the 17:00 mark of the second half, when Calipari moved his defense into a zone. The Highlanders turned the ball over on their first two possessions, and never got closer than 14 points from there on out.
Memorable moment: Coming off a great performance in Friday’s opener, junior Derek Willis nailed three second-half three pointers to help put away NJIT, and the crowd gave him a mini ovation for his efforts.
Cleaning up the glass: Freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe (bruised knee) returned from the injured list to play 29 minutes, third-highest on the team … Briscoe finished with 11 points (5-for-11), 12 rebounds, two assists and two steals … One night after earning SEC Country’s MVP honors, freshman guard Jamal Murray went 1-of-10 from three-point range … Senior guard Tyler Ulis went 1-of-8 from the field … Ulis led the team with 31 minutes.
What’s next: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Duke at United Center (Chicago, Ill.) on Tuesday