LEXINGTON, Ky. – So just how deep and talented is this Kentucky team? Well, the second-ranked Wildcats got almost nothing from a pair of projected lottery picks for most of Friday night’s season opener against Stephen F. Austin … and rolled to an 87-64 victory anyway.
With 13 minutes to go in the game, prized freshmen Bam Adebayo and Malik Monk had combined for six fouls and just five points – and yet Kentucky led by 25. That’s largely because veterans Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis and Isaac Humphries had combined for 38 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks by then, while two other freshmen dazzled.
Point guard De’Aaron Fox already had 8 points, 10 assists and just a single turnover at that point in his college debut, and rookie forward Wenyen Gabriel had 10 points (on 5-of-5 shooting) in his first 12 minutes off the bench.
So apparently that is how deep and talented these Cats are, and it’s pretty deep and talented.
Player of the game: Willis. The 6-foot-9 senior forward started and sparked Kentucky from the opening tip, dropping 10 points and blocking two shots in the first four minutes. He dunked and drove and spun and swished mid-range jump shots and 3-pointers alike on his way to 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks. He and Briscoe, the sophomore guard, will be the glue guys on a freshman-heavy squad. Briscoe had 17 points Friday.
Stat line of the game: Fox broke Kyle Macy’s record (set in 1977) for assists in a UK debut. He finished with 12 points, 12 assists, 3 steals and 3 turnovers in his first college game. Other records to watch with Fox this season: John Wall owns the school’s single-season assist mark (16) and Tyler Ulis has the top season tally (246).
I lied, THIS is by far the best thing you'll see all night. De'Aaron Fox behind the back pass to Monk for the 3. Wow. pic.twitter.com/uX01jH3baQ
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) November 12, 2016
Turning point: The Wildcats led by seven when Gabriel checked in for the first time of his college career with 15:42 to go in the first half. He went steal, steal, layup, dunk, jumper and sat down four minutes later with the Cats ahead by a dozen. Stephen F. Austin really never got close again. The gangly, 6-foot-9 freshman was endlessly active on defense (as advertised all preseason) and smooth on offense, burying a pair of early mid-range jump shots. Gabriel finished with 10 points in 18 minutes off the bench.
What’s next: One more tune-up for Kentucky, Sunday at 6 p.m. against Canisius in Rupp Arena on ESPN2, before the first big test of the season: No. 12 Michigan State in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night at 7 on ESPN.
Box score: Five Wildcats scored in double figures, as Monk recovered from his slow start to score 10 points in the game’s final 15 minutes. Humphries delivered 9 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in 19 minutes after Adebayo picked up his second foul just 43 seconds into the game. Here’s the full Kentucky box: