Cats rout Michigan State in first true test


Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe shoots a three point shot during the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York, NY.

By Chris Angolia

As is the case every year, the Champions Classic is the first true test for No. 2 UK basketball, and yet again, head coach John Calipari’s Cats passed the test with flying colors blowing out No. 13 Michigan State 69-48 at Madison Square Garden.

A quick start in a big game is crucial for any team, and the 14-2 run that UK went on in the latter stages of the first half gave the Cats a much needed confidence boost right off the bat.

After struggling in the early parts of Sunday’s game against Canisius, it was evident that the team needed to get off to a fast start offensively. Freshman guard Malik Monk made sure that UK did exactly that hitting seven threes in route to dropping 23 points.

Monk, who had a rough start to the season going just 9-25 from the field and 3-12 from three in UK’s first two games, hit his first three triples on Tuesday night which sent a message to everyone, including his own team. The run, that began with a Monk three-pointer, would set the tone for the rest of the night.

From that point on, the Cats’ smallest lead was four points, and it became clear that not only did UK ramp up its offense. But the defense showed flashes of dominance in holding the Spartans’ star-freshman Miles Bridges to just six points and nine turnovers.

“Calipari has been preaching to us that he never worries about the offense,” sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe said. “He just worries about defense and offense will take care of itself — we did play crazy defense, though.”

The dominance from the UK defense was something that many questioned coming into the matchup with the Spartans and it being the team’s first true test. However, Briscoe and freshman Wenyen Gabriel played a big role in providing an answer.

It has been no secret that Briscoe was going to be the tone-setter on the defensive end from the beginning of the season, but Briscoe was not alone Tuesday night. And while Gabriel’s stat sheet may not have been the most typical — 4 points, 6 rebounds, three steals and one block — it was his length that bothered the Spartans helping to force 20 turnovers.

I thought Wenyen was great today,” Calipari said after the game. “He was the high-motor, tipping balls, made his jumpers. – He’s just getting better and better.”

The turnovers played a big part in UK’s ability to separate themselves in the second half when a 34-26 halftime lead would balloon to 16 mid-way through the second half.

With Monk’s stellar shooting night, Briscoe able to get to the rim whenever he wants in route to a 21-point night, and the Cats putting the clamps down on the Spartans defensively, the rout was effectively on. And yet again for the third straight year UK has gone to the Champions Classic and left with a big early season victory.

“It’s a big win for us,” Briscoe said. “I think playing in The Garden was big for all the freshmen and everybody that never got to play a game big like this. But they performed well and we came out with the win.”