CRAWFORD | At Kentucky, Fox and friends too fast for Stephen F. - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | At Kentucky, Fox and friends too fast for Stephen F. Austin in opener

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De'Aaron Fox set a debut record with 12 assists in Kentucky's season-opener (AP photo) De'Aaron Fox set a debut record with 12 assists in Kentucky's season-opener (AP photo)
De'Aaron Fox drives for two against Stephen F. Austin (Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics) De'Aaron Fox drives for two against Stephen F. Austin (Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) — Kyle Keller, the first-year coach at Stephen F. Austin, didn’t do one of those “Hoosier” reenactments when he brought his team into Rupp Arena for the first time on Friday afternoon. For his own benefit, maybe he should have broken out the tape measure to check the dimensions.

Kentucky’s speed, length and athleticism led to a pretty convincing optical illusion.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, Keller said after his team fell to No. 2-ranked Kentucky 87-64 in the season-opener for both teams at Rupp Friday night. “I’ve never seen a court look that small. I know it was 94 feet. But you put those jokers out there on it, it gets smaller in a hurry.”

The main joker Keller was talking about, most likely, was Kentucky freshman guard De’Aaron Fox.

The game lacked rhythm. Officials called 51 fouls on the two teams. All but four of the dozen players Keller used in the game finished with three fouls. Two fouled out. It was start-and-stop much of the way.

But Fox didn’t need rhythm. He only needed room. He played the game in fast-forward. Everyone else played at human speed. It was like Fox had a “turbo” button. And UK coach John Calipari never stopped pressing it.

Fox dished out 12 assists — the most ever for a UK player in his Wildcat debut (though official assist stats only go back to 1971) — and added 12 points and three steals. Calipari said he had to get on the point guard from Houston about his rebounding, but he responded to finish with four rebounds, third-best on the team.

“We try not to run too much half-court offense, because guys can scout your offense,” Fox said. “But when you get a rebound and get out in transition, you never know what’s going to happen.”

For Calipari’s liking, the Wildcats didn’t do that enough. They outscored SFA, officially, 12-2 on the fast break. It would’ve been more, Calipari said, if his team had rebounded better. SFA finished with a 36-28 edge on the boards — and Kentucky collected only 17 offensive rebounds, out of a possible 32 — something that Calipari is likely to spend time on in practice this week.

But a major reason the Cats didn’t rebound better on the defensive end was that center Bam Adebayo, a 6-10, 260 pound freshman from Little Washington, N.C., picked up two fouls in the game’s first 44 seconds and sat for the rest of the half.

It’s not that Adebayo looked like a bull in a china shop. He looked like a bull on the basketball court. He’s so big, he moves and people go flying. For the game, he played just 15 minutes and finished with five points and one rebound.

“We talked for a week about not fouling,” Calipari said. “He is so big, when he moves, he fouls. So we talked about, when you move, you’ve got to have high hands, you can’t have hands on people, you can’t go after a block you have no business getting. But that was a bunch of freshmen. We didn’t defend. They shoot 44 percent. I liked that we had 21 assists and 13 turnovers. . . . I liked five guys in double figures and the other guys were nine and eight. That’s how we play here.”

While Adebayo had a tough start, senior Derek Willis had one of those starts like he dreamed about shooting hoops in his Mount Washington driveway. He reached double figures just 5:20 into his senior season, and had 10 of Kentucky’s first 14 points. He finished with 15, second-best in the game, on 5-7 shooting, while also grabbing five rebounds and blocking three shots. He also played a game-high 31 minutes.

“I’m so proud of Derek,” Calipari said. “He came up to me in practice to remind me of something we did on zone offense. He’s the first one in practice now and the last one to leave. That went from me blowing the whistle and we’re done with practice and he would run out the door. I’d say, ‘Derek can I talk to you first before you leave?’ And now — he’s on a mission. You build your own self-esteem. You build your own confidence. . . . Dreek’s showing great maturity, and it’s nice to have him.”

Isaiah Briscoe is only a sophomore, but he’s another steadying influence on the Wildcats. He led them in scoring with 17 points and keyed a defense that wasn’t always consistent, but which caused SFA trouble all night with deflections and pressure.

“This was a good game for us,” Briscoe said. “They were physical and older. We are going to face a lot of tough teams during SEC play and we have to get better on defense.”

After rolling through a pair of exhibitions, Calipari said this game ought to remind his team that it is in for some tougher nights in the regular season.

"Well, we had 21 assists, so their instincts are good," Calipari said. "We have enough in, I don't want to put any more in right now, let's just get good at what we are. We only have a few things, you saw us, I'm not out there running 17 different offenses, we're just not ready for that. I'm more concerned about defense and rebounding and blocking shots. We had eight (block) today, which is good, but they had five. So, like I will tell you, this was a good game to wake everybody up to understand, okay, this is college basketball. You're not just walking, you're not beating people by 80, you're not just trying to dunk balls. You got to play basketball, you got to be disciplined, you got to create good shots for each over, you got to rebound, you got to be tough. You're not fouling tough, you were fouling tough. Yeah, that's tough, but you're not playing now. So, all that stuff, you know, it's just going to be a process for us."

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