New arena; same old Kentucky

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Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Kentucky guard Malik Monk shoots a layup past Ole Miss defenders Thursday night in The Pavilion.

OXFORD — Saw my first game at The Pavilion at Ole Miss Thursday night. Saw Kentucky freshman Malik Monk for the first time, as well. The latter was just as impressive as the former – and that, folks, is saying something.

Before a packed house of 9,086 and an ESPN2 audience, Monk scored 34 points, 24 in the first half, to lead Kentucky to a 99-76 victory over Ole Miss. And it’s not just Monk. Every time a Kentucky player made a stupendous play, which was about once every 30 seconds in the first half, I’d look down at my score sheet and see it was another freshman: Monk, Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox or Wenyen Gabriel. Their games are even more impressive than their names.

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

Isaiah Briscoe, an old man (sophomore) where Kentucky is concerned, delivered a triple double with 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

In summary: A different cast, but same old Kentucky.

But before he talked about any of that, Kentucky coach John Calipari wanted to talk about The Pavilion, the $96.5 million arena Ole Miss now calls home. He began his post-game press conference, “Wow, how about this. … Before I get started I gotta tell you one thing you know about Ole Miss. When you go around this campus you see that when they do something it’s gonna be first class.

“… This place looks like it seats 16,000,” Calipari said. “I told our people, you gotta take a look at this place and get some ideas for our place. They did a lot of things right with this place.”

He went on, but you get the idea. Imagine: Kentucky taking ideas from Ole Miss on something that pertains to basketball.

Andy Kennedy would surely trade a few of those ideas for some of Kentucky’s talent. My heavens! In the first half, when it was still a game, Kentucky put on an exhibition. Monk, alone, could have filled ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day. He finished with 11 of 16 from the field, 5 of 7 from 3-point land and 7 of 8 from the foul line.

On a team that had 24 assists, Monk had only one, but as his teammate Briscoe put it: “We don’t need Malik to pass. We need him to shoot it and score the ball.”

The Yankees didn’t ask Babe Ruth to bunt much either.

Just 12 days before, Monk, a long-limbed, 6-foot-3-inch shooting guard, went off against No. 7 North Carolina at Las Vegas. In front of CBS cameras, he poured in a Kentucky freshman record 47 points, on 18 of 28 shooting, to propel the Wildcats to a 103-100 victory. He made 8 of 12 3-pointers in that one. He also has scored 23 against Michigan State, 23 against Arizona State and 24 against UCLA.

“Monk’s a terrific player, and I knew that,” Kennedy said of the Arkansas native. “I’ve seen him a lot on the (AAU) circuit. He’s always been a fantastic athlete. … He made 5 of 7 threes tonight and they weren’t all wide open.”

Calipari says Monk tends to rely to much on his fade-away jump shot. He wants him to be more aggressive taking the ball to the hoop. He got both Thursday night, and the fans got a show.

Calipari found plenty the Wildcats can improve upon, especially in the second half when the ‘Cats outscored the Rebels only 39-37.

“We played as well as we have all season in the first half,” Calipari said. “In the second half, we just didn’t have the discipline we need. We’re young and we’re playing all those freshman. It’s hard.”

Hard? Ninety-nine percent of college coaches would like to try Coach Cal’s version of hard. He is playing with several future NBA stars.

He believes The Pavilion will help Kennedy get some similar talent to Ole Miss.

“They already got a player (Devontae Shuler) from Oak Hill (Va.) we’d take,” Calipari said.

Yes, and get about nine more like that and Kennedy would have something similar to Kentucky talent. This arena would be a fine place to show it off.

Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.