No. 8 Wildcats leave old Kentucky home to meet Monmouth

LEXNGTON, Ky. — Eighth-ranked Kentucky leaves the Bluegrass State for only the second time in nine games as the Wildcats travel to New York on Saturday to face Monmouth at Madison Square Garden.

It will be the fourth time in five years that Kentucky has made the trip to New York, with the previous games being played at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn.

“We always like to go up there and travel, get away from here,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “It’s a good trip. We have guys from there on the team, whether they’re bringing family from up in New England or Philadelphia or New York area, they get to be with family.”

Freshmen Nick Richards and Hamidou Diallo are from New York while freshman Quade Green is from Philadelphia.

Calipari also loves going back to Madison Square Garden, the site of several huge coaching wins in his career.

“Madison Square Garden is the Mecca,” Calipari said. “It still, it brings back great memories when I was coaching. We played there when I was at UMass. Beat North Carolina in there. We beat Syracuse there when they won the national title with Carmelo Anthony. Oh, we beat Kansas, didn’t we? Michigan State?”

Monmouth is 3-6, but battle tested with two of the losses coming in overtime on top of another one-point loss to Hofstra in its last game. The Hawks also lost 84-81 at UConn in overtime and 101-96 to Penn in four overtimes.

“We have to practice more late-game situations, and we just have to understand staying together is the way that you have success,” Monmouth coach King Rice told reporters Wednesday. “Hopefully, this (loss) is going to help us later.”

The Hawks have wins over Bucknell 79-78, Lehigh 80-72 and Albany 81-73. Monmouth shoots 46.2 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point range and 64.2 percent from the foul line. They have 97 assists versus 157 turnovers.

Monmouth is led by junior guard Micah Seaborn, the only player averaging double figures at 16.7 points per game. Next comes senior guard Austin Tilghman at 9.7, freshman guard Deion Hammond at 9.1 and redshirt freshman guard Ray Salnave at 8.2.

“This team had Hofstra beat, it was a tip-out play, can’t believe they lost the game,” Calipari said. “They had Connecticut beat, up at Connecticut, had a chance to beat them so they’ve got good guard play. Really big and physical inside, and we better show up and play.

“It’s a noon game. Hard to play at noon. Normally at noon whoever shows up to play wins the game. So let’s just hope we’re showing up to play, and we have a chance to do what we need to do.”

Kentucky (7-1) is shooting 50.2 percent from the field, including 34.3 percent from 3-point range. They are hitting 66.8 percent from the free throw line. The Wildcats outrebound opponents by an average 7.7 per game and have 128 assists versus 121 turnovers.

Freshman forward Kevin Knox leads in scoring at 16.6 points per game. Next comes Diallo at 13.6 and Green at 10.5.

For Kentucky, with six freshmen as the six top scorers, every day in December is about improvement and consistency.

“I just think it’s going to be day-to-day,” Calipari said. “Yesterday I told them, ‘I feel encouraged right now.’ They were like, ‘Wow, really?!’ Today I’ll probably say, ‘I really feel discouraged right now.’ That’s how this has been.

“I just gotta stay focused. I don’t want to have anxiety about, ‘Well we’ve got to do more, be more of that.’ We are who we are right now. But the message is really simple: As everyone buys in, this team will start taking off. But we all gotta buy in.”