Scout/Jeff Drummond

Sophomore year a challenge for Kentucky Wildcats' Aussie center Isaac Humphries

Foul trouble, inconsistency have challenged Cats' second-year center.

With a year of experience under his belt, a brand new physique and conditioning to match, Isaac Humphries entered the season looking like a prime candidate to make that big jump many coaches hope to see from a player between his freshman and sophomore years.

It has not happened to date, but the 7-footer from Sydney, Australia, has not let it discourage him. 

"Obviously, sometimes your head goes crazy a little bit," Humphries said prior to Monday's practice. "That happens to any human being, but as a whole, I think I've come out of that."

The biggest of the Cats' big men is averaging 3.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, slightly more than his freshman averages of 1.9 points and 2.4 rebounds. But he's yet to have a breakout game like the 12-rebound night he had last season in an overtime battle against Texas A&M or the four blocked shots he recorded last year against Georgia. 

One cannot blame Humphries if he feels like he's been pulled in different directions this season. On the one hand, he has UK head coach John Calipari prodding him to be more physical, a common request made of players who grew up playing in other countries. On the other hand, he's dealing with new NCAA "points of emphasis" which have often made guesswork of what is legal and what is a foul.

Through 25 games, Humphries has been whistled for 52 personal fouls despite playing only 9.3 minutes per game. That's an average of one foul call every 4.5 minutes on the floor, by far the highest ratio on the UK roster. 

To put it in perspective, the next-most foul prone Wildcat is freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel at one call every 7.2 minutes. Even freshman center Bam Adebayo, who has been viewed as fighting foul trouble all season long, only averages one every 9.6 minutes of play. 

"Sometimes I get that backside rebound call when I wasn't really doing anything," Humphries said. "That happens. It's part of the game."

He neglected to suggest he's being unfairly targeted, though. It's not in his polite wiring. 

"I think, being a big, there's a ref right there watching us. Sometimes it's just in the moment. I mean, being a ref is a really hard job," Humphries added.

Last week, Calipari introduced his "reboot" concept for a team seeking to regain the form it displayed earlier this season. 

Asked what that entails for his game, Humphries said: "It's just coming out and playing with confidence and aggression and fighting. But for the bigs as a whole... pick-and-roll defense is something that we have to figure out, and we’ve been working on that a lot over the past week.”

Calipari indicated that the staff has made some adjustments to the way UK is defending the pick-and-roll now. He was coy about the specific changes, but it appears that the Cats are no longer asking the 260-pound Humphries to automatically switch and defend against smaller, quicker guards attacking the basket. They showed flashes of that adjustment on Saturday in a 67-58 win at Alabama.

Humphries had a solid showing in eight minutes off the bench against the Crimson Tide. He scored four points, grabbed two rebounds, and, yes, committed four fouls. But it was a positive step forward, he said, especially with the Cats bringing home a much-needed win.

"I thought Isaac played well, did some good stuff," Calipari noted.

And he may be something of a lucky charm. Kentucky improved to 19-0 on the season when Humphries scores, a bit of a statistical anomaly that he isn't taking too seriously.

"That's a stretch," he deadpanned before giving way to a grin. "It's not like I'm scoring 40 points."

Humphries and the No. 13 Cats (20-5, 10-2 SEC) return to action Tuesday night at Rupp Arena in a rematch with Tennessee. The Volunteers (14-11, 6-6 SEC) handed UK an 82-80 loss on Jan. 24 in Knoxville. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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