Diallo scores 23, No. 8 Kentucky beats Monmouth 93-76

Kentucky forward PJ Washington (25) shoots past Monmouth defenders during an NCAA college basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. Kentucky defeated Monmouth 93-76. (Alex Slitz/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) During a recent practice, Kentucky coach John Calipari noticed freshman guard Hamidou Diallo was pulling his hand back after launching jump shots.

The technique worried Calipari, so as he recalled, he forced the New York City product to ”keep his follow through.”

Based on what transpired at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, coach knows best.

”He’s trying to do what we’re asking him to do,” Calipari said after Diallo scored a season-high 23 points and No. 8 Kentucky beat Monmouth 93-76. ”Less is more for him.”

Kentucky (8-1) won its sixth in a row. PJ Washington added 20 points, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander chipped in 15 and Nick Richards had 10.

”We’re better,” Calipari said, before adding, ”We’re still not capable of going 40 minutes.”

While Kentucky is creating positive momentum ahead of conference play, Monmouth (3-7) has lost three straight. Deion Hammond led the Hawks with 19 points and Micah Seaborn had 18.

”It doesn’t feel great,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. ”You got beat by a bigger and better team.”

Diallo, in his first season, helped the Wildcats take a 54-31 halftime lead.

”This is my first time playing in the Garden,” Diallo said. ”Coming from New York, it’s every kid’s dream … to play in The Garden.”

With the outcome essentially decided, Kentucky continued attacking in the second half and extended its lead to 29. In one sequence, Wildcats center Richards dunked, and then Diallo forced Sam Ibiezugbe to miss a layup before bringing the ball downcourt and knocking down a jumper.

Later, Wenyen Gabriel followed up Kevin Knox’s missed straightaway 3-pointer with a two-handed putback jam. Despite those plays, as both Calipari and Rice noted, Monmouth outscored Kentucky 45-39 in the second half.

”I am proud of my kids,” Rice said. ”As coach (Calipari) pointed out, `You beat us in the second half.’ I am proud because my kids kept fighting, and when it’s Kentucky and they come with All-American players when they were in high school, you could get discouraged, but our kids did not get discouraged.”

Among the 10,438 in attendance for the first-ever meeting between the programs were New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and newly hired manager Aaron Boone. The duo sat courtside, next to NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter.

”I talked to them after (the game). We talked trades and some different things. (Shohei Ohtani) went to the Angels. I said, `Hey, we’re fine,”’ Calipari said of his chat with Cashman and Boone, which led to a question about whether the trio discussed the Yankees’ reported trade for reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton.

”We talked about Stanton. We’re going to get that one done. We’re going to get that one,” Calipari said. ”You understand I’m a Yankee fan. A Pirate fan, too, because I grew up in Pittsburgh.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: Calipari has bemoaned his Wildcats’ lack of maturity in the early portion of the season. While his team has begun with eight wins in nine games, Kentucky has shown flaws that SEC rivals can exploit. The Wildcats committed 19 turnovers against overmatched Monmouth.

Monmouth: The Hawks committed 15 turnovers while shooting just 37.1 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from 3-point range.

NOTABLE

Kentucky: Among the criticisms of Calipari’s teams has been their inability to convert free throws. The Wildcats began this game making 66.8 percent of their attempts, ranked 265th in the nation. Against Monmouth, Kentucky went 24 of 32 (75 percent) from the line.

Monmouth: Rice used 14 players. Seaborn and Austin Tilghman led Monmouth with 32 minutes each.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Hosts Virginia Tech next Saturday.

Monmouth: Plays at Princeton on Tuesday night.

More college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25