By Josh Ellis
“Some of the offense is the same, but this is a way better team. This is an NCAA Tournament team,” Calipari said. “They’re far advanced from us. This is a junior, senior team with a new coach, but the whole thing is that we’re going to guard in the half court, we’re going to give them one tough shot, we’re going to rebound like crazy, we’re going to play loose offensively. They’re going to play loose offensively, they’re going to play pick-and-roll, shoot threes. I mean, they’re a good team.”
Hurley and the Sun Devils come into Lexington riding a three-game winning streak, including an impressive double-digit win over No. 18 Texas A&M. Last year Hurley took his Buffalo team into Rupp and gave UK everything it could handle, including a five-point lead at halftime. Saturday’s matchup could take another second-half rally by Calipari and the Cats if they want to trump Hurley again.
Battle in the frontcourt
Both UK and Arizona State possess solid big men who can produce, so the battles down low could very well be the deciding factor of Saturday’s game. UK out-rebounds its opponent by a margin of plus-10.8 and Arizona State out-rebounds its opponent by a margin of plus-eight.
“(Arizona State is) going to be really physical, they’re going to be gritty and they’re going to make us play defense,” Calipari said. “This is going to be a really hard game. But it’s what we need. We need to find out where are we and then take it from where we are and then to where we want to go, which is the next step.”
Calipari said the Sun Devils’ physicality will give him a chance to see how Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Skal Labissiere will respond against bigger and older opponents. A solid outing from any one of those three could help UK clinch its ninth victory of the season.
UK shooting slump
It should be well known by now that one of UK’s few weaknesses thus far has been outside shooting. The Cats are averaging just 27.5 percent from behind the arc, and haven’t been much better from the free-throw line, sitting at just 67.8 percent.
Jamal Murray said on Friday the shooting struggles aren’t much of a concern, but instead the team is thinking too much about each shot. He also went on to note that the Cats are having no trouble shooting the ball in practice, which should eventually transfer into the games.
“Yeah, we go to practice and Tyler (Ulis) and I made 73 (3-pointers) each in five minutes,” Murray said. “And we go in the game and I go 2 for 9 and he goes, like, 1 for 6, so it’s stuff like that. We all know we can shoot, we’re just not making shots right now.”