Scout/Jeff Drummond

Kentucky Wildcats bounce back from first loss with solid win over Valparaiso

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Coming off its first loss of the season, a setback to UCLA which dropped the Wildcats from the top spot in the polls, Kentucky responded as one might expect on Wednesday.

The No. 6 Wildcats used their biggest run of the young season -- a 21-0 spurt early in the game -- to stun visiting Valparaiso and cruise to an 87-63 win at Rupp Arena.

Kentucky (8-1) rediscovered its defensive intensity, holding the Crusaders to 34.3 percent from the field and only 4-of-15 from beyond the 3-point arc. The Wildcats forced 19 turnovers and limited Valpo's NBA prospect, senior forward Alec Peters, to a relatively quiet 23-point night on 9-of-20 shooting from the field. He entered the game averaging 25.4 points.

“The one thing we didn’t want was for them to lose to UCLA, and they did definitely re-focus their defense," Valpo head coach Matt Lottich said. "The thing that they have is supreme athleticism. They pressure you all the way up the floor, and they don’t make passes easy. They’re very disciplined on the defensive end, very well-coached. I thought they had a good game plan against Alec."

"There were signs today that we could be really good," UK head coach John Calipari said. "Then the question is, how good do we want to be? ... That energy is how we have to come out every day, and it's hard."

The Cats placed four players in double-figure scoring, led by freshman center Bam Adebayo with 16 points and seven rebounds. Freshman guard Malik Monk followed with 15 points, while senior wing Derek Willis and sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe added 12 and 10, respectively. 

Calipari, however, cited senior guard Dominique Hawkins with the night's strongest performance.

"“He was great," the UK boss said. "... I mean, Dom goes in and just changed the whole complexion because of how he defended on the ball, and he kind of disrupted what they were doing offensively. Their point guard (Lexus Williams) got those two fouls right away, and then got a third because of how we played. He had to keep people off him.”

"Maybe we needed the loss (to UCLA) to show that if we don’t come in and play that someone will come in our house and beat us,” Hawkins said.

Kentucky led 45-24 at the half after holding the Crusaders (7-2) to 27.6 percent from the field.The Cats stretched the lead to as much as 34 in the second half.

In this All Wildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game... 

WHAT WE LIKED:

Kentucky bounced back from allowing the most points in the Calipari Era to deliver a defensive performance much more in line with what one expects from the Cats. There was constant pressure on the ball. Passes to the wings were challenged. When Valpo star Alec Peters caught the ball, there was a quick trap to force it out of his hands. That helped the UK build a 25-4 lead by the 9:42 mark of the first half. The Cats could not sustain that effort for 40 minutes, but Calipari noted that's part of the maturation process. He's getting spurts of four to five minutes of strong defense now. He's looking to extend those as the season progresses. 

GAME BALL:

Dominique Hawkins, Kentucky -- The senior guard finished with a modest six points, four assists, and three rebounds, but his defense was the catalyst for the UK blowout. When Hawkins was on the floor, Valpo had to burn half of the shot clock attempting to get free from his smothering on-ball defense. "He’s an unbelievable defender," UK teammate Derek Willis said of Hawkins. "He brings energy, pressures the ball full court, and he played great. He hit his 3s tonight, made shots and he overall played really well. There’s not much more you can say."

BY THE NUMBERS:

9 & 7 - Points and rebounds for UK senior guard Mychal Mulder in 16 minutes off the bench.

9:20 - The time remaining in the first half when Valpo's Peters recorded his first points.

18-2 - UK advantage in fast-break points.

35-7 - Kentucky in "bounce-back" games coming off a loss under Calipari.

48-41 - The Cats' rebounding advantage over the Crusaders.

138-5 - UK when holding the opponent to 63 or fewer points under Calipari. 

QUOTABLE:

"I told them, 'I can't wait until finals are over so we can start three-a-days and get this thing right.' They have finals next week. Get through those by Wednesday, and it's Katie bar the door, right there. Let's go. I said, you get to eat, sleep, video games. I'll give you a little time for your video games, and then we're playing basketball." -- The UK head coach on his approaching "Camp Cal" sessions during the semester break.

UP NEXT:

Kentucky returns to action Sunday against Hofstra in a 3 p.m. ET tipoff from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Pride (6-4) are coming off an 81-75 loss to St. Bonaventure. The game will be broadcast by ESPN. 


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