Calipari, Kentucky keeping close eye on Canisius

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Fresh off its 87-64 season-opening victory over Stephen F. Austin on Friday, Kentucky returns to action just two days later when Canisius visits Rupp Arena.

Coach John Calipari is excited for Sunday's game because he anticipates a completely different test than the one presented by Stephen F. Austin first-year coach Kyle Keller.

“I don't think Canisius will play that type of man-to-man, which makes you play a little different,” Calipari said. “That team denies wings. Kyle has them denying passes, denying wings, which could lead to turnovers.

“What they do is they disrupt your offense, they take you out of what you want to do and make you play one-on-one. The issue is we're pretty good at playing one-on-one,” Calipari said. “Canisius, I don't know. But I'm glad they played us some zone. We got the ball right where we wanted it, we didn't make the plays, but we'll watch the tape and show them what was there.”

Canisius was only 14-19 last season, its 12th losing season since the turn of the century. The Griffins have not won an MAAC regular season title since 1994, and its last trip to the NCAA Tournament came in 1996.

The Griffins are led by Phil Valenti, the top returner in points (14.6), rebounds (6.1) and assists (2.1). The 6-foot-7, 200-pound senior started all 33 games last year. He topped double figures scoring 24 times, including a career-best 33 in a MAAC Tournament win over Niagara. Valenti needs 122 points this year to top 1,000 for his career.

Canisius also returns 6-3 junior guard Kassius Robertson, who also started all 33 games. He averaged 14.1 points per game while attempting the most field goals at 213. Next closest was 127.

Kentucky will be coming into the game after beating Stephen F. Austin by 23 points. It was a debut in which the Wildcats put five players into double figures – Isaiah Briscoe, 17; Derek Willis, 15; De'Aaron Fox, 12; Malik Monk and Wenyen Gabriel, 10.

“What I like is five guys in double figures and the other two with nine and eight. That is how we play here,” Calipari said. “Now you say, well, they're all McDonald's All-Americans, they scored 30 points a game in high school. Yeah, you're not playing that way here.”

When Kentucky takes the court on Sunday, Calipari will be looking for continued improvement of a simple game plan.

“I don't want to put any more in right now,” Calipari said. “Let's just get good at what we are. We only have a few things, you saw us, I'm not out there running 17 different offenses, we're just not ready for that. I'm more concerned about defense and rebounding and blocking shots.”

One word of caution for Kentucky: Beat Canisius in regulation. The Golden Griffins outscored opponents last year 21-4 during the third overtime period.

Kentucky's game with Canisius will be the final tune-up before a nationally televised battle on Wednesday against Michigan State in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“Michigan State just lost. So what we're going to be playing a mean dog up in New York,” Calipari said. “So these three games to start off the year when we're a bunch of freshmen, it's going to be a rough go.”