LEXINGTON, Ky. – Second-ranked Kentucky got a record night from freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox and a strong showing from veterans Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis and Isaac Humphries in Friday’s 87-64 win over Stephen F. Austin to open the season.
Fox’s 12 assists were the most ever in a Wildcats debut, while the trio of returning players combined for 41 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks. It was never close. But coach John Calipari still had plenty of nits to pick. Highlights from his postgame press conference:
- Three freshmen – Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo – started the opener, along with sophomore Briscoe and senior Willis. “I just didn’t feel comfortable starting the first game out of the gate with four freshmen on the court,” Calipari said. Willis’ 10 points and 2 blocks in the first four minutes Friday “proved me right. He gave up some offensive rebounds, which hurt us, but if he’s playing with that much confidence, the good outweighs the bad.”
- Adebayo, a 6-foot-10, 260-pound projected lottery pick, committed two fouls i the first minute of the game and didn’t play the rest of the first half. He finished with 5 points and 1 rebound in 15 minutes. “We talked for a week about not fouling,” Calipari said. “He is so big, when he moves, he fouls. And I told him, ‘You just gotta be aware. You gotta have high hands. You can’t be pushing in the back. You can’t have hands on people. You can’t go after a block you had no business getting.’ “
- RELATED: Senior Mychal Mulder delivered eight points in six minutes. His long-range shooting can help Kentucky, but his defense might hurt the Cats, which is Calipari’s conundrum.
- Monk, another potential lottery pick, went scoreless in the first half (although he finished with 10 points) – but it wasn’t his offense that bothered Calipari. No, the issues for both him and Fox “are defensively and rebounding,” the coach said. “Now I got on De’Aaron and he started rebounding at the end of the game. He ended up with (four) rebounds … but Malik ends up with no rebounds? Come on. If you can put your head on the rim, you can go in and rebound the ball.” That and defensively lapses, though, are “typical freshman stuff.”
- Humphries looked much-improved, as the 7-foot sophomore went for 8 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals in 19 minutes off the bench. He played away from the basket some and was comfortable shooting jump shots or driving and scoring. “He’s in better shape than he’s ever been in his life, he’s bouncy, he now can guard pick-and-roll better,” Calipari said. “He’s in the post, he can continue to move his feet. He has better discipline than Sacha (Killeya-Jones) and Bam, because he’s older.”
- Speaking of: “That discipline defensively, it’s going to hurt us going forward, but it is what it is,” Calipari said. “It’s going to be a process. I can get on to them to hold them accountable, but the reality of it is they’re 17- and 18-year-olds – and you got Isaac, who is an 18-year-old sophomore and you got Isaiah Briscoe, who is a sophomore. You got all young kids.” Well, plus Willis and fellow senior Dominique Hawkins. “It’s nice,” Calipari said, “to be able to say, ‘Look, we got two seniors that are in this rotation that are going to be able to give you quality minutes.’ “
- Freshman Wenyen Gabriel, a long-armed, 6-foot-9 forward with an impressive array of skills, shined off the bench: 10 points (5 of 6 shooting), 2 rebounds, 2 steals in 18 minutes. He was active on defense and confident offensively, swishing multiple mid-range jump shots. “He’s been starting in practice,” Calipari said. “I just changed up two days ago because I didn’t feel comfortable starting four freshmen.”
- After another tune-up against Canisius on Sunday, it’s off to face No. 12 Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. The Spartans lost their opener against Arizona on Friday night by a bucket. “So we’re going to be playing a mean dog up in New York,” Calipari said. “These three games to start off the year (in five days) when we’re a bunch of freshmen, it’s going to be a rough go.”
- The gist of Friday’s 23-point win, in which the Wildcats were outrebounded by the Lumberjacks 36-28? “This was a good game to wake everybody up to understand, ‘OK, this is college basketball.’ You’re not just walking (in and) beating people by 80 (or 93, like in UK’s last exhibition). You’re not just trying to dunk balls. You gotta play basketball, you gotta be disciplined, you gotta create good shots for each other, you gotta rebound, you gotta be tough.”
WATCH: John Calipari’s complete postgame press conference. And be sure to download the SEC Country app so you never miss a thing.