Scout.com/Jeff Drummond

Kentucky Wildcats shake off slow start, roll past Stony Brook 85-57 in NCAA opener

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Kentucky shook off a sluggish start Thursday in its NCAA opener against Stony Brook, cranking up its top-rated offense in the second half en route to an 85-57 win at Wells Fargo Arena.

The Wildcats made only four of their first 17 shots from the field and held a modest 33-19 halftime lead in a matchup between the East Region's 4 and 13 seeds.

But when the shots started dropping for UK, there was nothing the Seawolves could do but watch the closely contested game turn into a blowout. The Cats shot 76 percent (22 of 29) in the second half to advance to the Round of 32 on Saturday against traditional border rival Indiana. 

"First games are always hard in this tournament," said John Calipari, who improved to 23-4 in the NCAA Tournament as the UK head coach. "We were a little shaky in the first half, but we played good enough defensively to be OK. Then I thought we got our feet underneath us in the second half. We still -- there was some sloppy stuff that I wasn't happy about -- but at the end of the day, you know, the first one, to get it under your belt and move on, is important."

Kentucky (27-8) avoided major trouble by leaning on its defense until the offense could hit its stride. The Cats held the Seawolves to just 7-for-37 shooting (19 percent) in the first half. Stony Brook finished the game at 20-for-76 (26 percent) and committed 14 turnovers.

"I watched a lot of tape. I thought they were excellent, and seeing them live, they're better than I thought," Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said of the Cats. "They can just overwhelm you."

"They're big and athletic, and I think that took over at the end of the day," Stony Brook's Ahmad Walker added. "It's easy to get to the rim, but when you get there, they're big and they're long and they alter shots."

All five UK starters scored in double figures, led by freshman guard Jamal Murray with 19 points and seven rebounds. Fellow freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe followed with 13 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere each scored 12 points, while the latter also recorded six of the Cats' NCAA record 15 blocked shots. Sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis chipped in with 10 points and seven assists, breaking John Wall's single-season assist record at UK.

https://twitter.com/ESPNCBB/status/710658956142780421

Stony Brook (26-7) was led by senior forward Jameel Warney, the America East Player of the Year, with 23 points and 15 rebounds.

In this AW "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the Cats' victory...

KEY MOMENT:

Kentucky hit 11 of its first 13 shots to begin the second half as the lead quickly swelled to 58-30. The run included the Cats' first successful 3-pointers of the game -- one by Derek Willis at the 16:06 mark and two later by Murray -- and Stony Brook never recovered. Six different UK players scored during the decisive run, underscoring the depth of talent between the two clubs.

GAME BALL:

Labissiere (pictured above) gave UK a big lift with his defense early in the game against Warney, a physical, skilled big man who had scored 43 points in the Seawolves' conference tourney championship game. The Cats' 6-foot-11 freshman from Haiti frustrated the 6-8 Warney with his length and athleticism, challenging every shot in the post. Warney surpassed his season scoring average, but most of the damage came well after the game had long been decided. Labissiere tied his career high of six blocked shots set earlier this season against LSU. 

BY THE NUMBERS:

0 - Three-pointers made by the two teams in the first half on 12 attempts

7 - Different UK players blocked a shot -- Labissiere (6), Poythress (2), Murray (2), Willis (2), Charles Matthews (1), Marcus Lee (1) and Briscoe (1).

25 - Offensive rebounds for Stony Brook, who won the battle of the boards 46-44.

120th - NCAA Tournament win for UK, the most in college basketball history.

243 - New UK single-season record for assists set by Tyler Ulis.

1998 - The year UK set the previous NCAA Tournamet blocked shots record (14) against UCLA.

QUOTABLE:

"Laying around all day isn't good. We need to be on our feet a lot more." -- UK's Alex Poythress on waiting to play a game that tipped off at approximately 10 p.m. ET and wrapped up well after midnight.

UP NEXT: 

Kentucky faces Indiana for the first time since the 2012 national championship season. The 5th-seeded Hoosiers advanced with a 99-74 rout of Chattanooga on Thursday. Senior guard Yogi Ferrell led IU (26-7) with 20 points and 10 assists.


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