BOZICH | Six takeaways from Kentucky's surging win over Arizona State
Skal Labissiere failed to score or grab a rebound, but Jamal Murray and Alex Poythress carried Kentucky to a 14-point win over Arizona State.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Former Duke star Bobby Hurley made Kentucky work for every millimeter of a 71-52 victory last season when Hurley coached Buffalo.
Hurley upgraded to the job at Arizona State last spring and promptly booked his Sun Devils for another Rupp Arena trip. I guess the place motivates him – for a half, maybe.
Hurley was at it again Saturday. Hurley was so comfortable that he had ESPN sticking its cameras and microphones inside the Arizona State huddles.
Picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 in a pre-season vote of media members who cover that league, Arizona State played the Wildcats tight for about 25 minutes until Kentucky’s superior talent and depth ruled.
Last season Buffalo led by five at the half and lost by 19. This season, Hurley’s team trailed by one at the half and lost by 14 -- 72-58.
Six Takeaways from the win, Kentucky’s ninth in 10 games:
Murray Takes Charge
Jamal Murray showed that he can be more than a three-point shooter. He can slash. He can pass. He can defend. He can follow the game plan to attack the glass.
On a day when Murray made two of six three-point shots, he led Kentucky’s surge in the second half with his drives and play-making. He followed an 0-for-6 first half by scoring 12 of his 17 points in the second half.
"When we hit shots we change the game," Murray said. "(It) makes a lot of different plays easier. I think that kind of change the game. Guys were able to get to the rim multiple times and allowed for me to spin and shoot."
Credit Murray with more than simply points – five assists as well as making his first seven free throws.
Poythress Power – and then Injury
UK coach John Calipari has been looking for more of his guys to perform with an edge. Alex Poythress, the senior forward, has received and accepted the memo.
A game after he scored a season-high 21 points with 13 rebounds against Eastern Kentucky, Poythress made back-to-back starts for the first time this season.
His numbers were not as sparkling as they were against the Colonels, but they were solid. He scored seven points in the first half and got to the line three times.
Sadly, Poythress missed the final 9:56 of the first half after hyper-extending his right knee. But he returned to start the second half. Credit Poythress with 10 points and six boards.
Said Calipari, "At halftime did you all think, 'if they don't get Alex back, they have no chance of winning this game?' Raise your hand. Is anybody with me on that?
"Then I saw him walking out at halftime. I said, 'Are you going to play?' He says, 'Yeah I'm going to' -- I'm like, wow. And then I said, 'OK, we can do this.' "
Poythress had surgery on his left knee for a torn ligament last season and missed all but eight games.
Former Bullitt East star Derek Willis arrived at Rupp Arena with a new look – a shaved head. Earlier this week, some wondered if Willis had colored his dark hair. Willis admitted that he had. In fact, he colored it gray.
Did it have any impact on his performance or status on the team?
Hard to say, but if it did, it took time.
Even with the Wildcats struggling on offense in the first half, Willis was the sixth substitute Calipari summoned from the bench, entering the game after Mychal Mulder and Isaac Humphries.
Willis contributed only two points in six minutes in the first half, but he delivered more energy and efficiency in the second half. He made a three-point shot, contributing seven points, three boards, a steal and a rebound in the victory. Willie can be a crowd favorite if he continues to perform that way.
“I just want to play with energy and passion for the game," Willis said. "I think that’s what the fans want, so that’s what I want to do.”
Paging Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins...
Sports Illustrated might have anointed Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere the next great thing in college basketball before the season but after 10 games it is apparent that he does not have the power or the polish of the other great inside players Calipari has coached at Kentucky.
Labissiere no-showed during the first half, failing to contribute a point, a rebound, a steal or an assist. He did block a shot.
His second half wasn’t much better. He lost his starting spot to Marcus Lee. Labissiere played 13 minutes, fouling out without a point or a rebound.
How’s the Shooting Stroke?
In a word, shaky.
Kentucky entered the game ranked 14th (last) in the Southeastern Conference in three-point shooting, making only 27.5 percent of their attempts from distance. The Wildcats did not show improvement, missing their first six three-point attempts by four different guys.
Tyler Ulis finally ended the pain when he made an unchallenged three from the top of the key with about 9 minutes to play.
But the Wildcats finished 1 for 11 from distance in the first half and 6 for 21 for the game. That’s 28.6 percent, still an upgrade of their season average.
During his first six seasons at UK, John Calipari has not had a team make less than 33.1 percent of its three-point attempts over an entire season.
The defensive forecast for the Wildcats is clear: Heavy doses of zone with cloudy skies and turbulence around the basket.
The Wildcats have a reward waiting at the end of finals week – Ohio State.
This is not the Ohio State of Greg Oden, Evan Turner, Aaron Craft or D’Angelo Russell. This is the Ohio State that slipped to 4-5 Saturday by losing at Connecticut by 20.
The Buckeyes have already endured a four-game losing streak, which was low-lighted by home losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Virginia. The Buckeyes have a midweek home game with Northern Illinois before they meet John Calipari’s team Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, part of the CBS Sports Classic, which also features North Carolina and UCLA.
After that, the Wildcats have a week off before welcoming Louisville to Rupp Arena on the day after Christmas.
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