Jamal Murray

Associated Press

No. 5 Kentucky pulls away thanks to improved second-half execution

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A Kodi Justice three-pointer in the final seconds of the first half capped a mediocre 20 minutes for No. 5 Kentucky. While they did hold a one-point lead at that point, the Wildcats looked nothing like one of the nation’s top teams. Whatever John Calipari and his staff said to the players in the locker room got through to the players, as the Wildcats produced a far better half of basketball on their way to the 72-58 victory in Lexington.

And moving forward, the key for Kentucky will be putting together quality performances for a full forty minutes as opposed to doing so in fits and spurts.

A 19-5 second half run put the game out of reach for the visiting Sun Devils, who grabbed nearly half of their available offensive rebound opportunities (eight offensive rebounds to nine defensive rebounds for Kentucky) in the first half. Arizona State did grab seven offensive rebounds in the second half, but thanks to Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress (four defensive rebounds each) the Wildcats did a better job of limiting the visitors to one shot.

Those defensive rebounds helped the Wildcats establish a better flow on the offensive end, with Kentucky scoring 20 of their 40 second-half points in the paint and shooting 57.7 percent from the field.

Poythress (ten points, six rebounds) left the game in the first half with a hyperextended right knee (not the one he injured last season) after playing some of his best basketball of the season, and with Skal Labissiere once again ineffective (zero points, zero rebounds) the senior’s absence was felt. Since the start of the season Calipari’s been on Poythress to be more athletic on the court, because he has the potential to change the equation offensively for the Wildcats.

Lee, who’s been effective this season, finished Saturday’s game with 14 points and seven rebounds and has been an important piece for the Wildcats in the front court. But with the strides Labissiere still needs to make being greater than many anticipated before the season began, Poythress’ aggressiveness is an important factor for Kentucky moving forward. They missed him when he wasn’t on the court, with Arizona State hitting the offensive glass, and that changed for the better when he returned.

Another positive in the second half for Kentucky was their perimeter shooting, as they made five of their ten attempts from three after shooting 1-for-11 in the first half. Arizona State used a zone at times, and unlike the first half in which Kentucky settled offensively they were more disciplined in finding quality looks. The Wildcats have capable shooters in Tyler Ulis (12 points, six assists), Jamal Murray (17 points) and Isaiah Briscoe, but they don’t have a consistent knockdown guy.

That makes the quality of shots they get that much more important, and in the second half thanks to their improved execution the Wildcats averaged 1.14 points per possession (0.87 first half).

Given the combination of new pieces and guys who were supplementary options a season ago stepping into primary roles, this is going to be a work in progress. Kentucky took some positive steps in their half-court offense in the second half Saturday, which allowed them to pull away from Arizona State. And as they continue to work on that aspect of their game, the Wildcats need to figure out how to get their prized freshman big man going.

Hyperextended elbow could sideline Kentucky’s Ulis Monday night

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In the midst of No. 1 Kentucky’s comfortable win over USF on Friday, sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis went down with a hyperextended right elbow. Kentucky does have two other players capable of running the point in freshmen Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe, but there’s no denying the importance of Ulis to this team.

The question now is whether or not Ulis will be available when the Wildcats host Illinois State Monday night, and there has yet to be a definitive answer. Ulis didn’t practice Sunday, and should he miss Monday’s game Kentucky loses a player who has provided (among many things) consistency at the point.

“And without Tyler now, you have to understand the last six minutes of that half and what we did the first five or six minutes of that second half, that was without Tyler. We were really good,” Calipari said Sunday. “It’s just they couldn’t sustain it. That’s what Tyler does. Tyler just keeps coming and he does not stop and he’s not going to make mistakes to let another team get back in the game. That’s the difference. That’s the experience.”

The absence of Ulis would give Murray and Briscoe more time with the ball in their hands running the point, and they’d have to do so against an Illinois State team that gave No. 2 Maryland all it wanted in Cancun earlier this week.

While Friday’s game was well in hand when Ulis was injured, the Wildcats and Bulls played to a stalemate in the final 20 minutes. Doing so against an Illinois State team expected to be a factor in the Missouri Valley Conference would be dangerous.

Following Monday’s game, Kentucky makes the trip out west to take on UCLA Thursday night.

Official: Jamal Murray will not be playing for Team Canada at FIBA Americas

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It’s official now: Jamal Murray will not be a part of Canada’s Olympic qualifying team at the FIBA Americas tournament later this month.

On Thursday, Canada released a 13-man roster for the Tuto Marchand tournament — an exhibition tournament prior to the FIBA Americas event — a roster that will be whittled to 12 before Team Canada makes the trip to Mexico City on Aug. 31st. Murray was not on it, meaning that Kentucky commit will be enrolling in school in Lexington on Aug. 26th.

Jamal Murray would not have been a starting point guard for Canadians at this event, but given the expectations that the Canadian basketball program has for their young star, they wanted him on the roster to gain as much experience as possible. But doing so would have meant that he would have to miss nearly three weeks at the start of his first semester on campus.

It’s a similar situation to the one that Karl-Anthony Towns dealt with prior to enrolling at Kentucky last season. If Murray had gone with the Canadian team to the FIBA Americas event, he would have had to enroll at Kentucky at the end of the first semester, which is the middle of December.

Report: Canada Basketball, Kentucky in contact over potential Jamal Murray eligibility situation

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The upcoming FIBA Americas Championship, held in Mexico City from Aug. 31-Sept. 12, could result in Canada clinching a berth in the 2016 Olympic Games. Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray is currently in camp with the team trying out and it’s looking like he could make the team as the backup point guard, according to a report from TSN’s Josh Lewenburg.

While Toronto Raptors point guard Cory Joseph will be the starting lineup for Canada this summer, Murray has come on strong in recent months, first with a dominating performance at the Nike Hoop Summit in April and most recently, leading Canada to a silver medal at the Pan American Games in Toronto three weeks ago. That has put Canada in a position where they would like the 18-year-old Murray to compete with them through the middle of September, which cuts into his early class time at Kentucky. The fall semester begins on Aug. 26.

Missing early classes could put Murray’s eligibility in limbo and Canadian Basketball officials have been in contact with Kentucky head coach John Calipari about the matter.

From Lewenburg’s report:

At one point, the idea of Murray breaking camp over some more experienced players at his position seemed like a stretch but after blossoming in a key role for that silver medal-winning team, they would love to have him in Mexico. However, with Kentucky’s first semester scheduled to begin before the tournament opens, his availability remains uncertain. Triano, Steve Nash and Canada Basketball officials are in contact with famed Kentucky coach John Calipari and the NCAA daily, hoping to work something out that would allow Murray to participate in the qualifier. Regardless, they’re happy to have him with the team for workouts this week as he continues to learn and develop.

This wouldn’t have seemed like an issue a couple of months ago, but credit Murray for elevating his play enough to compete for the senior national team. With a lot of young talent on its national team, led by recent Kansas wing Andrew Wiggins, Canada Basketball could be putting a nice core together and they obviously see Murray as a future part of that team.

I hope that things get resolved so that Murray can compete with the senior national team. It’s not great that he would miss some class time early in the year, but if some kind of arrangement could be made to let him play, he’d be getting some great experience competing for a spot in the Olympics with Canada.

Kentucky’s Jamal Murray throws down effortless behind-the-back dunk

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Jamal Murray’s busy summer continued this week, as the Kentucky freshman headed to training camp with the Canadian National Team. He’s one of 16 players trying to make the team for the FIBA Americas Championship, which begins later this month in Mexico City.

Before departing for training camp, Murray finished up a workout with this effortless behind-the-back dunk.

Murray reclassified and committed to Kentucky back in late June. Even before training camp with the national team, the 6-foot-5 lead guard has gained international experience and exposure, helping Canada win the silver medal in the 2015 Pan-Am Games. Murray dropped 22 points (all in the fourth quarter and overtime) in Canada’s 111-108 win over Team USA in the semifinals.

Murray joins Skal Labissiere, Isaiah Briscoe, Charles Matthews and Mychal Mulder in John Calipari’s incoming class.

[h/t College Spun]

Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray makes training camp roster for Canada FIBA Americas team

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Kentucky freshman guard Jamal Murray has been one of the breakout players of this summer thanks to some strong play in the Pan-Am Games for the Canadian national team. Now it appears the senior Canadian national team is interested to see what the 6-foot-5 guard can do against the nation’s best players as Murray is listed on the Canada Basketball training camp roster for FIBA Americas later this summer.

FIBA Americas is an important event for Canada because they have to finish either first or second to qualify for the Olympics. NBA players like Andrew Wiggins, Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynk and Nik Stauskas will be competing for roster spots alongside Murray, as he’s the only college player listed among the training camp group.

Now the question becomes whether Murray makes the roster and if it conflicts with classes beginning at Kentucky. Classes at the school begin on Aug. 26th while the FIBA Americas go on from Aug. 31 to Sept. 12 in Mexico City. It means Murray might have to decide between doing one or the other.

Tryouts and training camp will go from Aug. 14-20 and it should give Murray the experience of playing against some pro guards during an elite-level camp. We’ll have to wait and see whether Murray beats out the group of older players and makes the team before the potential enrollment date issue at Kentucky becomes a factor.