By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky needed a spark to get going and Isaiah Briscoe more than provided it.
Briscoe, a sophomore, had 21 points, five rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot in Sunday’s 93-69 win over Canisius in Rupp Arena.
The heavily favored Wildcats gave up two 9-0 runs in the first half and had trouble defending the 3-point shot and rebounding. The one constant was that Briscoe was able to get inside and almost score at will until UK’s freshmen started to settle into the game.
“When you are playing so many young guys, sometimes you just have to settle them down,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Isaish was the man. He just willed us. He is twice as good as last year.”
Point guard De’Aaron Fox finished with 21 points, four rebounds and three assists. He was 9-for-9 at the foul line. Bam Adebayo had a Bam-Bam with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Another freshman, Malik Monk, added 16 points.
Kentucky got to the foul line 39 times and made 27. Canisius was 13-for-20 at the foul line.
The visitors managed to get 34 points in the paint. Kentucky had 46, which was no surprise, but giving up 34 to Canisius and winning the rebounding battle only 39-36 could indicate problems ahead Tuesday night when UK faces its first major test when it plays Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.
“We have to get better defensively. You are not winning high level games if you are not guarding and rebounding,” Calipari said. “It is going to be a hard game for us. They rebound and bang. They get the ball up and down the floor. We may start four freshmen.”
Calipari was not happy with the defensive play or rebounding from power forwards Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel and hinted he might go with Adebayo at power forward instead of center.
Canisius coach Reggie Weatherspoon was pleased overall with his team’s effort, especially early in the game, before it succumbed to UK’s length and size.
“Speed and quickness. If you are a little bit out of position, they are at the rim,” Witherspoon said about Fox and Monk. “Couple of times we scored and they got out of net and up sideline and in the basket before we could respond. We have to learn to defend at a pace that goes that quickly.”
Canisius assistant Larry Blunt, who coached former UK star Jamal Murray in high school, said UK’s length and speed were too much for Canisius.
“They are much, much longer than last year and that makes a big difference when you are not used to that,” Blunt said.
Calipari said Canisius played deep into the shot clock and that gave his team trouble.
“They made shots, they played hard, they weren’t afraid,” Calipari said.
Calipari noted that Adebayo missed “six one-footers” but did make free throws (8-for-13).