Kentucky Wildcats

Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon (11) gets into a scuffle with Kentucky'sp Isaiah Briscoe (13) and De'Aaron Fox (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Weatherspoon and Fox were both charged with offsetting technical fouls. Kentucky won 88-81. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)

Fox leads No. 5 Kentucky over Mississippi State 88-81

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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Malik Monk, Kentucky’s leading scorer, was struggling and so was star guard Isaiah Briscoe. So when the Wildcats needed some clutch baskets late, coach John Calipari turned to freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox and gave him some simple instructions.

“We just said, `Here you go De’Aaron, go and do your thing,”‘ Calipari said.

Fox responded with two clutch baskets on drives to the basket in the final minutes to thwart a final Mississippi State rally and lead the fifth-ranked Wildcats over the Bulldogs 88-81 on Tuesday night.

Fox finished with 21 points while Monk had 14. Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis both scored 13 points and Briscoe added 12.

“A lot of teams have a go-to person, but we don’t have that right now,” Fox said. “So whoever has the hot hand that game is the one that does it.”

Kentucky (16-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) looked like it would cruise to the win after building a 66-49 lead midway through the second half, but Mississippi State responded with 13 straight points to make things interesting down the stretch.

Calipari said he was frustrated with his team’s inattention to detail. He was especially irritated when Monk got a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk on an alley-oop pass.

“We go into the AAU mode when we’re playing all freshmen and sophomores,” Calipari said. “There’s a point in the game where they just think `OK, watch this.’

“You’re never going to be that team if that’s what your mindset is.”

In the end, the Wildcats were too potent offensively. The 6-foot-3 Fox was especially impressive, shooting 8 of 15 from the field and adding five rebounds and five assists.

Kentucky also got plenty of production from its forwards. Willis scored all 13 of his points in the first half, stepping out to make three 3-pointers. Gabriel was 5 of 5 from the field, including 3 of 3 from 3-point range.

Mississippi State (12-5, 3-2) was led by freshman Lamar Peters, who scored a career-high 25 points. Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 15 points and Mario Kegler added 13 points and eight rebounds.

Mississippi State shot 32 of 59 (54.2 percent) from the field. The Bulldogs were hurt by 19 turnovers.

“You can’t knock Kentucky – they’re one of the best teams in the country,” Peters said. “But when you look at the talent on our team, I feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country, too. We can hang with anybody. And it’s frustrating because we knew we could have won that game.”

It was an emotional game that featured four technical fouls – two on each team.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats continue to put up big numbers on offense, scoring at least 87 points for the sixth straight game. Monk, who leads the team at nearly 22 points per game, wasn’t at his best on Tuesday, but his teammates were more than capable of picking up the slack.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were able to hang with one of the nation’s best teams for most of the game, but an inability to stop Kentucky on the defensive end proved costly.

QUITE AN ATMOSPHERE

Mississippi State announced a crowd of 9,768, which was its largest of the season. The traffic was so bad before the game outside Humphrey Coliseum that the Bulldogs’ pep band barely made it to their seats on time because its bus was stuck on the road.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: The Wildcats return home to face No. 24 South Carolina on Saturday.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs travel to face Tennessee on Saturday.

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More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 .

No. 6 Kentucky upends Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 10:  Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats puts his arm around teammate Malik Monk #5 during the final moments of an 87-81 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores second half at Memorial Gym on January 10, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Malik Monk scored six points in the final 32 seconds, and No. 6 Kentucky remained unbeaten in the Southeastern Conference by holding off Vanderbilt 87-81 Tuesday night.

Kentucky (14-2, 4-0) came in having beaten its first three SEC opponents by at least 23 points, something the Wildcats hadn’t done since the 1953-54 season. They looked ready to roll over Vanderbilt, scoring the first nine points of the game, before finding themselves in their tightest game at least in league play this season.

Vanderbilt (8-8, 2-2) closed to 83-81 on Jeff Roberson’s putback with 17.9 seconds left. But the rally fizzled from there.

Monk, who hit Kentucky’s last field goal with 32 seconds left, hit two free throws with 17 seconds left. Vanderbilt’s last shot, a 3 from Matthew Fisher-Davis, was off target with 9 seconds remaining, and Monk finished off the win with two more foul shots.

Isaiah Briscoe led Kentucky with 23 points, De’Aaron Fox had 22, Monk finished with 18 and Edrice “Bam” Adebayo had 14.

Roberson, Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance each scored 19 points for Vanderbilt. Luke Kornet added 16.

The Wildcats got into early foul trouble that kept Monk and Fox on the bench for much of the first half.

Monk, the SEC’s leading scorer, picked up his second foul with 16:54 left in the first half, followed quickly by Fox getting his second 11 seconds later. They both went to the bench, and the Commodores finally started knocking down some shots.

The Wildcats led 45-41 at halftime but couldn’t push their lead past eight in the second half.

Vanderbilt last led 53-51 on a three-point play by LaChance and stayed close despite the SEC’s best shooters outside the arc hitting just 8 of 29 (27.6 percent).

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: Coach John Calipari’s young Wildcats haven’t been in many close games so far this season. They got into foul trouble early and also had their worst night shooting outside the arc, finishing just 1 of 9. But they shot 50.7 percent (34 for 67) overall.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores had been making 13.3 3s per game in SEC play. They struggled on a night when Memorial Gym had enough Kentucky blue inside to feel like a road version of Rupp Arena. They also missed too many layups and close shots. Fisher-Davis was 9 of 11 at the line but only 4 of 15 from the floor.

BIG SHOT

A fan hit a half-court shot at halftime to win a three-year lease on an Acura. He celebrated with a high-five from Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, who sat with Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew’s father, Homer, behind the Vanderbilt bench. Harbaugh is in town for the AFCA convention.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: The Wildcats host Auburn on Saturday afternoon.

Vanderbilt: Host in-state rival Tennessee on Saturday night.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 6 Kentucky beats Texas A&M by 42 points

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07:  John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to  De'Aaron Fox #0 and Malik Monk #5 during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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It happened again.

No. 6 Kentucky put up 100 points on an overmatched opponent again. Malik Monk had 26 of them. De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe combined for 28 of them in addition to their 13 assists. As a team, the Wildcats shot 13-for-25 from three; Briscoe, who has struggled with his shot throughout his time in Lexington, made all three of his attempts.

But the thing that is worrying about that performance – for Kentucky opponents as well as fans of the SEC in general – is that it didn’t come against some mid-major program we won’t hear from again this season.

It came against Texas A&M.

The same Texas A&M that some projected as a top two team in the Big 12 this season. The same Texas A&M that was still thought of as one of the top four teams in the league entering Tuesday night.

That’s not a good sign for the SEC that the fourth-best team in the league can lose to Kentucky 100-58, is it?

Well, no.

It’s not.

But it’s also worth noting here that this is the nightmare matchup for the Aggies.

Texas A&M doesn’t have an eligible point guard on the roster, at least one that’s good enough to deal with what Kentucky is throwing at them. Freshman J.J. Caldwell was expected to be the guy that handled the ball this season, but he was ruled academically ineligible before the year. Kentucky is not only one of the best defensive teams in the country, they have arguably the single-best on-ball defender in the sport in Fox.

And what Kentucky wants to do defensively is utilize the myriad of crazy athletes in their back court to make running offense difficult. Combine that with a team not having a natural point guard and what you get is Texas A&M turning the ball over on 40.5 percent of their possessions in the first half.

In other words, I think this game says more about the matchup itself than it does about either team.

And that’s a good thing for the SEC. This is a Power 5 Conference that sent three teams to the NCAA tournament last season. It’s not a good look that the team we all thought would be fourth-best team in the league can’t keep it as close with the Wildcats as Stephen F. Austin, Canisius, Duquesne, Cleveland State, Tennessee-Martin, Valparaiso and Hofstra could.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Villanova is the new No. 1

Villanova head coach Jay Wright shouts instructions to his team during the first half of N NCAA college basketball game against Miami in the regional semifinals of the men's NCAA Tournament in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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1. Villanova (14-0, Last Week: No. 2): It feels like what Villanova is doing this season is still flying under the radar despite the fact that they are undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country while staking claim as the reigning national champions.

2. UCLA (14-1, 3): UCLA lost on the road on a game-winner with 0.7 seconds left to a team that I now have in the top ten, a team that was in the preseason top five before we realized that Dillon Brooks, who is now healthy and mowing down opponents, wasn’t at 100 percent to start the year. I’m not concerned in the least.

3. Kansas (12-1, 4): The Jayhawks survived a scrappy TCU team in their Big 12 opener thanks to a punishing performance from center Landen Lucas. He has suddenly turned into the most important player on the Kansas team now that Udoka Azubuike is out for the year with a wrist injury.

4. Kentucky (11-2, 5): Kentucky put together their most complete performance on the season last week when they beat Ole Miss in Oxford. Isaiah Briscoe put up a triple-double, Bam Adebayo played his best game of the season and Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox did the things that Monk and Fox do.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

5. Duke (12-2, 1): So what do we do with the Blue Devils? I’m still in the camp that says that Duke has the highest ceiling of any team in the country, and I also think we’ve underrated just how good Virginia Tech is this season; the Hokies would be undefeated right now if they hadn’t choked away a loss to Texas A&M in the Wooden Legacy semifinals. This isn’t like Duke going to Boston College and taking a beating.

But Duke still took a beating, and the biggest concern was that the Blue Devils seemed to lack the effort and the intensity to make the plays they needed to make defensively. They almost looked selfish offensively, as the lack of a point guard on that roster was glaring. They played without Grayson Allen, who was serving the first game of his suspension, but the issues Duke had on display were much bigger than Allen.

Put another way, Saturday made me think that Duke may not ever get to their ceiling. But hey, at least Harry Giles III finally scored a point.

(UPDATE: And now Coach K will miss up to a month to recover from back surgery.)

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6. Gonzaga (14-0, 8): The Bulldogs were pushed by both Pacific and Pepperdine this week, but came out unscathed with double-digit wins. There is a real chance that Gonzaga could head into Moraga on Feb. 11th as the lone undefeated team in college basketball.

7. Baylor (14-0, 9): The Bears keep rolling along. On Saturday, they opened up Big 12 play by mollywhopping Oklahoma in Norman. It is going to be fun when the Bears get together with Kansas this season, on Feb. 1st and Feb. 18th.

8. Wisconsin (12-2, 11): While Indiana lost twice last week and Purdue dropped a home game to Minnesota, the Badgers continue to roll along. Since Nigel Hayes made the change to being a point forward, the Badgers have looked like a totally different team.

9. Louisville (12-2, 7): Outside of Duke, Louisville is the hardest team in this poll to rank. They beat Kentucky, but they beat Kentucky by three in a game they were favored by two on their home floor, the same home floor where they were smacked around by Virginia just five days ago. But then the Cardinals turned around and gave Indiana a similar whooping in Indiana. Wherever you have them ranked, here’s what you need to admit: the Cards are, right now, as good as, if not better than any team in the ACC.

10. Oregon (13-2, 21): Oregon vaults up to No. 10 in our poll for one, simple reason: they’re back.

11. West Virginia (12-1, 12)
12. North Carolina (12-3, 6)
13. Creighton (13-1, 10)
14. Florida State (14-1, 25)
15. Virginia (11-2, 18)
16. Xavier (12-2, 16)
17. Saint Mary’s (12-1, 17)
18. Arizona (14-2, 22)
19. Cincinnati (13-2, 20)
20. Butler (12-2, 13)
21. Purdue (12-3, 14)
22. Virginia Tech (12-1, UR)
23. Notre Dame (12-2, 23)
24. USC (14-1, 19)
25. Indiana (10-4, 15)

DROPPED OUT: No. 24 Seton Hall
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Virginia Tech

Briscoe’s triple-double leads No. 8 Kentucky past Ole Miss

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11:  Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles up court against the Hofstra Pride in the first half of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center on December 11, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Considering the location, the opponent and what was on the line on Wednesday night, and I think that what we saw from No. 8 Kentucky as they went into the Pavilion and knocked off Ole Miss, 99-76, in their brand new arena was their most complete performance of the season.

I know that might sound crazy considering that the Wildcats already have a win over No. 6 North Carolina this season, and blow out wins over the likes of Arizona State and Valparaiso.

But that win over North Carolina came on the shoulders of two players: Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Monk scored 47 points that day. Fox had 24 points and 10 assists. Combined, they were responsible for 87 of Kentucky’s 103 points. They carried Kentucky that day.

On Thursday night, the story was different. Fox was OK, finishing with seven points and seven assists, and while Monk finished with 34 points, it felt different than the game against Kentucky. He didn’t really get going until later on in the second half, and by then, Kentucky had already taken a commanding lead.

On Thursday, it was Isaiah Briscoe and Bam Adebayo that were the dominant forces. Briscoe finished with 19 points, 11 assists and 10 boards, just the third triple-double in Kentucky basketball history and the second this season. Adebayo and 25 points, playing what was by far his best game of the season. Derek Willis wasn’t really hitting shots – that will come, he’s too good of a shooter not to – but he rebounded the ball well, threw a handful of beautiful outlet passes and even blocked a few shots.

Why does this matter?

Because Adebayo hasn’t yet been able to find a way to impact a game like this for 40 minutes; he’s done it in spurts. Because this was the best game that Briscoe’s ever played in a Kentucky uniform and it came on the road against a pretty good SEC opponent; the knock on him has been that he can beat up on mid-majors but struggles against players with comparable size and athleticism. Because being able to trust Willis on the defensive end of the floor means that Kentucky can play with two shooters on the court on the offensive end.

Because the success of that supporting cast takes pressure, and some of the attention of a defense, off of this team’s stars, Fox and Monk.

VIDEO: Malik Monk with a ridiculous coast-to-coast bucket

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 13: Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball against Kiefer Douse #4 of the Canisius Golden Griffins at Rupp Arena Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky defeated Canisius 93-69. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Kentucky’s Malik Monk might go for 40 again tonight. He has 24 first half points against Ole Miss, including this ridiculous, coast-to-coast bucket: