College Basketball – CATS Thrash Defending National Champ Duke in Champions Classic

UK beat the defending National Champs and served notice, they are as good as anyone in the country - Photo by Brendon Miller
UK beat the defending National Champs and served notice, they are as good as anyone in the country – Photo by Brendon Miller

Brendon D. Miller – Midwest News and Sports – November 17, 2015 – Chicago, Illinois

One thing we learned from the CATS 74 – 63 defeat of the Blue Devils in the Windy City on Tuesday Night was that the Cal Machine has reload faster than Coach K. The rosters of the two schools that should have played in the National Championship game last April, were light years from the teams that participated in the Final Four. The CATS lost 7 players (Town, Cauley-Stein, Booker, Lyles, Johnson and the Harrisons) to the pros, while the Blue Devils lost Jalil Okafor, Justice Winslow, and Tyus Jones. Cal has restocked with a new batch of CATS to add to Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Derek Willis. The talent difference in the teams was evident and undeniable. If not for poor defensive rebounding by the CATS the first 10 minutes of the game, the margin could have grown to double digits in the first half. Amile Jefferson had 6 first half offensive rebounds and 10 points to keep the Blue Devils in the game.

The game was controlled by the guard play of the CATS. On top of phenomenal recruiting, Cal is also adaptable is his playing style. After a year where the CATS went 7 foot, 7 foot, and 6-10 in the front court, the dribble-drive is back with the stud trio of Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, and Isaiah Briscoe. Stat lines for those three: Ulis – 18 points, 6 assists and ZERO turnovers in 40 minutes – no doubt player of the game; Murray – 16 points, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 5 rebounds in 38 minutes; and Briscoe – 12 points, with two steals while playing lock-down defense on Duke star Grayson Allen. All three are athletic, smooth, competitive and each can take turns running the point or playing the wing. Their games complement each other well, and as they learn each other’s game through the season, things can only look up. Add the veteran contributions of Marcus Lee with a double-double (10 and 10) and the returning Poythress (9 and 7) and the CATS were just superior even this early in the season.

If you did not watch the scoreboard, this game felt like the CATS were in control the entire time. Grayson Allen entered the night averaging 27.0 points per game, but he ended up being the example of what this CATS team can do. Allen and heralded recruit Brandon Ingram combined for just 10 points on 17 field goal attempts while committing 8 turnovers. Point guard Derryck Thornton had more turnovers (4) than assists (3) in 29 minutes as he was persecuted and prosecuted by Ulis. If not for the double-doubles posted by Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee, this could have been a really ugly result for the Dukies.

After the game Cal continued his theme for the season that this team needs “Grit”. It was his opinion that the Blue Devils out-fought the CATS, with specific reference to the 15 offensive rebounds given up. I would say that there will be sufficient emphasis place on the glass before Fridays home date with Wright State.

This result came despite the 7 points, 4 rebounds and 5 fouls star freshman Skal Labissiere posted in only 13 minutes of action. Skal may take a few more games to adjust to the physical demands of this level, but that is what Kenny Payne does, and when Skal turns it on, this team will take a major step. Bottom line, I like this team. They are fun to watch, and while we are not looking at a 38-0 run this year, this ride may be even more fun. Reloaded and ready to roll.