No. 1 Kentucky braces for Arizona State in Bahamas
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky is hitting the road in a big way, exiting the mainland for Nassau, Bahamas, and a date with Arizona State on Monday.
"Now we've got to go on a trip and we've got to play in the Bahamas because our fans like to make trips, so we'll play in the Bahamas," coach John Calipari said Friday after Kentucky's 111-76 rout of Tennessee-Martin. "Go have a vacation with us down there, and spend three days in the Bahamas."
The game, to be played at the Atlantis Paradise Island resort, is actually the brainchild of Calipari. His intention is to bring the Big Blue Nation fan base and his extremely popular basketball team together in a relaxed environment.
"What I'm hoping is, bring your kids," Calipari said in his early November sales pitch. "Let's make this a terrific weekend. You're on the island, you're in a great venue and setup."
Kentucky (6-0) has already faced Michigan State at Madison Square Garden in New York and will play North Carolina on Dec. 17 in Las Vegas. But Calipari believes this trip has its own special appeal.
"I understand New York and I understand Vegas, but I think this is going to be the trip," Calipari said. "I want it to be a family where we're all there."
In 2010, Kentucky participated in the Maui Invitational, an event during which Kentucky's fan base regularly descended on Hawaii. But Calipari doesn't like the lengthy travel and ended it after regular participation dating back nearly 20 seasons.
Instead, Calipari took his club to the Bahamas in July 2014 for a six-game exhibition swing. During the trip, he promised fans they would return for a regular-season game every few years. Monday's game fulfills that promise.
On Sunday afternoon, Calipari did something he had never done in eight seasons in Lexington, inviting Kentucky fans to watch an open practice.
"It's an experience where you can get as close to this team," Calipari said. "You're not getting that close in Vegas and you're not getting that close up in New York. You're just not. It's a different environment."
Arizona State (4-2) has defeated Portland State, Cal Poly, Tulane and Citadel. Coach Bobby Hurley's club lost to Northern Iowa and Davidson. The Sun Devils haven't played since Wednesday, when they outscored Citadel 127-110.
"We're playing Arizona State," Calipari said. "It's not like we're playing a team that's not good. They're a good team."
Junior guard Tra Holder leads Arizona State in scoring at 18 points per game, followed by senior guard Torian Graham (17.3), junior guard Shannon Evans (16.2), senior forward Obinna Oleka (12.2) and freshman guard Sam Cunliffe (9.8). Oleka is averaging a double-double including his 10.3 rebounds per game.
Kentucky is led by in scoring by freshman guard Malik Monk at 18.7 points per game, thanks to a career-best 26 against UT-Martin. Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe averages 18.0 points but was forced to sit out the last two games with a bruised lower back. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on Friday night.
Freshman point guard De'Aaron Fox averages 15.5 points and 7.8 assists and freshman forward Bam Adebayo averages 11.0 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds.
One thing seems assured when the teams meet in paradise. Fans are in for fast-paced action as Kentucky averages 92.3 points and Arizona State, 85.7. The difference could be defense -- the Wildcats give up just 64 points compared to 79.2 for Arizona State.