LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari’s alma mater was no match for fourth-ranked Kentucky on Sunday night. But we knew that.
Here’s what we learned in the Wildcats’ 108-51 exhibition win over Clarion:
1. KENTUCKY’S BEST LINEUP
Oddly enough, prized freshman shooting guard Malik Monk, the best bet to lead the Cats in scoring this season, did not start this game. De’Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Wenyen Gabriel and Bam Adebayo did. And they played together just fine.
Willis (more on him in a bit) and Gabriel scored the team’s first 9 points. But what looks like Kentucky’s best combination didn’t come together until the 15:54 mark in the second half. The Cats led 55-26. Three-and-a-half minutes after Calipari went with a Monk, Fox, Briscoe, Adebayo and Isaac Humphries lineup, that lead was 73-35.
Consider the competition, of course, but Clarion had absolutely no answers for that lineup. Adebayo skied for a slam, Humphries swished a hook shot, Briscoe and Fox sliced to the bucket for too-easy layups, and Humphries kicked to the corner for Briscoe to bury a 3-pointer.
The worry with that group is whether there is a consistent outside threat. But if at least one of those guards is hitting, good luck stopping them. That quintet’s numbers Sunday: Fox (12 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers), Monk (15 points, 4 assists, 4 steals), Briscoe (11 points, 11 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 turnovers), Adebayo (13 points, 14 rebounds) and Humphries (6 points, 4 steals, 3 rebounds in 14 minutes).
2. MONK SHOULD START
The bouncy former McDonald’s All-American stated a strong case for not keeping him on the bench to begin games. Upon entering at the 15:53 mark in the first half, Monk rattled off 3 points, 2 assists and 2 steals in 2 minutes.
He was active on defense, acrobatic at the rim and smooth in generating his own offense. Monk hit a pretty pull-up jumper just inside the arc and an array of crowd-pleasing dunks. He has no trouble looking down into the bucket before cramming it.
He’s a streaky shooter, sure, and perhaps that is Calipari’s concern. But goodness, he’s electric.
Willis, the more consistent deep threat, is the perfect guy to come off Kentucky’s bench. And in certain matchups, he has certainly proven worthy of starting. The 6-foot-9 senior picked up right where he left off in a breakout junior season: 13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks in 19 minutes.
3. BRISCOE IS IN CONTROL
As fun as Monk and Fox are (and will be) to watch, Briscoe is the engine that will power this team. The sophomore who passed on the NBA draft looked completely comfortable — and in charge — from the very beginning.
Briscoe had 5 assists and 2 steals Sunday night before he committed his first turnover. During another second-half outburst, he lobbed to Fox for a slam, stole it and lobbed to freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones (who had 12 points in 15 minutes) for another big dunk.
Briscoe shot it with confidence, and that jumper looks much-improved, as advertised. He was 3 of 5 from the floor and 4 of 5 from the line (a huge development). But mostly he looked to harass the opponent on defense — he forced a 10-second violation at one point — and create for his teammates on offense.
He looks like a perfect glue guy to bring together this super-athletic and talented group.