LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's mistake-filled start quickly gave way to the energetic effort the sixth-ranked Wildcats acknowledged was missing against UCLA. And their intensity soon put things out of reach for Valparaiso.
Bam Adebayo scored 16 points, Malik Monk added 15 and scored 21 straight points in a first-half run to beat the Crusaders 87-63 on Wednesday night.
Needing to rebound after Saturday's upset by then-No. 11 UCLA, Kentucky (8-1) turned a 4-all tie and seven turnovers in the first 4 minutes into a 29-9 lead behind that big run over 8:51, holding the Crusaders scoreless for 7 minutes during that stretch. The Wildcats eventually built a 34-point lead midway through the second half on the way to a feel-good performance that included 19 turnovers and nine blocks, the kind of effort they're used to.
"I was kind of surprised (by the UCLA loss) because that's not us," said senior guard Dominique Hawkins, who had six points, four assists and three rebounds. "We usually come in and put pressure on the ball and make the ball handler feel uncomfortable. ... When they did get in the lane, it was usually a blocked shot or you had to throw a half-floater over one of our bigs."
Kentucky guard Dominique Hawkins talks about the Wildcats' improved energy against Valparaiso: pic.twitter.com/i0BmK1OLaB
— Gary Graves (@GaryBGraves) December 8, 2016
Valparaiso (7-2) shot just 28 percent in the first half and finished 23 of 67 from the field (34 percent). It was the Crusaders' second-lowest field goal percentage this season.
Those struggles made it easy for Kentucky to outscore the Crusaders 46-32 in the paint and 18-2 on the fast break.
"Our game plan coming in was making sure we took good shots so they couldn't fly up the court," first-year coach Matt Lottich said. "I thought in the first half we took a lot of quick shots, they sped us up a lot and really got out and got in good in transition."
Derek Willis added 12 points and Isaiah Briscoe had 10 for Kentucky, which shot 46 percent after making just 41 percent against UCLA.
High-scoring Valparaiso forward Alec Peters scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half for the Crusaders, who had their four-game winning streak snapped eight days after upsetting No. 21 Rhode Island. The nation's second-leading scorer coming in (25.4 points per game) went to the locker room briefly in the second half with what Lottich believed was a leg cramp but returned to finish off his ninth 20-point effort in as many games.
Valparaiso: The Crusaders haven't shot above 50 percent this season and for a while appeared headed to a season low from the field. They went scoreless for more than 2 minutes several times and couldn't slow Kentucky even with its reserves in the game, being outscored 34-15 in that area. Losing Tevonn Walker (eight points) to early foul trouble also hurt.
Kentucky: Coach John Calipari sought defensive improvement after allowing 53 percent shooting by UCLA and got it for the most part after a sloppy start. Power forward Wenyen Gabriel started and had two of his career-best three blocks by halftime and had six rebounds. The Wildcats controlled the boards 48-41.
Kentucky has another game on Sunday against Hofstra, but its Top 10 status appears safe after bouncing back from the UCLA loss.
Gabriel, Willis and later Briscoe guarded the 6-foot-9 Peters, a combination that forced him to miss his first six shots and seven of 10 in the first half. The Associated Press honorable mention All-America regrouped to make nine of his final 14 attempts, which didn't surprise Calipari.
"We were just trapping and going at him and making him think, so he couldn't get into a rhythm," he said. "You saw the one he shot on Isaiah Briscoe, he turned and just shot. If he gets in rhythm, he's making baskets. He's that good."
Valparaiso: Visits Missouri State on Saturday night.
Kentucky: Travels to Brooklyn, New York, for an inaugural meeting against Hofstra on Sunday.
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