No. 1 came and they conquered.
For the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, it wasn’t good enough.
Following their 84-63 win over South Florida on Friday in the Miami Hoophall Invitational at AmericanAirlines Arena, head coach John Calipari and his players expressed more displeasure than delight with the Wildcats’ performance, which fell far short of the perfection that’s expected.
When asked to provide a number grade to the unbeaten team and how close it is to where it wants to be in March, freshman sensation Jamal Murray shook his head.
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“We’re far,” said Murray, a near-certain top 10 NBA draft pick near year. “I can’t put a number on it. But we’re pretty far right now. We’re still trying to figure out our roles and how we’re going to play as a team.”
With Murray pouring in 21 points and Haitian sensation Skal Labissiere contributing 17, the Wildcats made easy work of South Florida (1-5), opening up a 21-point halftime lead and then making it stick.
During one four-minute stretch late in the first half, when the Wildcats widened a seven-point lead into one of 17, they buried the Bulls with four alley-oop buckets, two coming from the hands of Labissiere, their freshman center. But in pretty much settling the outcome then and there, the Wildcats also sustained a big loss when point guard Tyler Ulis went down while diving for a loose ball.
Ulis suffered a hyperextended right elbow and didn’t return in the second half. His status is listed as day-to-day. Following his departure, the Wildcats didn’t manhandle South Florida as it had when he was on the court.
The Bulls played even-steven with Kentucky in the second half, shooting 60 percent from the field, double their first half success rate.
“We’re holding people to 37 percent [shooting],” Calipari said. “They shot 46 [for the game]. We’re shutting people down. We didn’t do that to them.”
Calipari gave a thumbs-down to the play of his frontcourt.
“I thought some of our frontline guys were just like, either didn’t want to mix it up or weren’t ready for this game,” Calipari said. “I was frustrated with a bunch of the guys. We only out-rebounded them by six rebounds. We’ve been out-rebounding people pretty good right now.”
Calipari even singled out one of his prized pupils, Isaiah Briscoe, for a game that didn’t meet expectations.
Briscoe — yet another freshman — finished with six points while committing a team-high three turnovers.
“I thought Isaiah struggled,” Calipari continued. “He’s flipping balls like you’re in a horse game. He had four flips. He was trying to spin ‘em off the high corners, see if he could knock them in, like we’re playing Skee ball. He had three or four plays that there layup, easy passes…”
And so it goes with Kentucky, which already boasts eight national titles and reached the Final Four last season before bowing out to Wisconsin with the team’s only loss.
In Kentucky, they don’t settle for ho-hum. And in Calipari’s eyes, that’s where they presently sit. Earlier in the week, he said there were 20 teams in the country that could beat the Wildcats.
But so far, they haven’t lost.
They have already defeated Duke, along with the usual smattering of early-season cream puffs.
They have their usual cast of stars, many bound eventually for the NBA, and a recruiting class that ranks No. 1 in the country.
So Calipari and his Cats don’t don’t settle for so-so.
In what was the Wildcats’ second-ever visit to Miami, they got the job done and returned home to the bluegrass with a workmanlike win.
A proud win, it wasn’t.
No. 1 KENTUCKY 84, SOUTH FLORIDA 63
KENTUCKY (6-0): Lee 2-5 0-1 4, Labissiere 5-8 7-8 17, Ulis 2-4 2-2 8, Briscoe 3-9 0-1 6, Murray 8-16 3-3 21, Matthews 4-5 2-2 11, David 0-0 2-2 2, Mulder 0-1 0-0 0, Humphries 1-3 0-0 2, Poythress 4-6 0-0 8, Hawkins 1-2 0-0 3, Willis 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 31-62 16-19 84.
SOUTH FLORIDA (1-5): Perry 5-11 2-3 12, Peters 1-4 0-0 2, Morillo 3-9 3-4 9, Cousins 5-6 2-4 12, Nunez 2-7 2-2 7, McMurray 6-14 0-0 13, Bryant 0-0 0-0 0, Bodway 0-0 0-0 0, David 0-1 0-0 0, Guerrero 4-4 0-2 8, Zeigler 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 9-15 63.
Halftime—Kentucky 42-21. 3-Point Goals—Kentucky 6-13 (Ulis 2-2, Murray 2-5, Matthews 1-1, Hawkins 1-2, Mulder 0-1, Willis 0-1, Briscoe 0-1), South Florida 2-10 (Nunez 1-3, McMurray 1-5, Morillo 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Kentucky 37 (Briscoe, Lee 6), South Florida 31 (Perry 8). Assists—Kentucky 16 (Briscoe 7), South Florida 5 (Morillo, Peters 2). Total Fouls—Kentucky 17, South Florida 17.