NEW YORK — Michigan State freshman Miles Bridges has quickly become one of the most exciting players in college basketball. He also found out Tuesday that he’s not always going to be able to dominate like he was able to before coming to East Lansing.
Bridges was sensational in his college debut last week against Arizona (21 points, 7 rebounds in 37 minutes), but he struggled against Kentucky in the Spartans’ 69-48 loss in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“Miles came off with a minute-and-a-half left and I said, ‘Miles, welcome to the real world,'” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the game. “No more high school. You’re going to get doubled. You’re going to get this and this. Just register and learn. This is part of the process. His buddy [Kansas freshman Josh Jackson] went through it out in Hawaii [in a 103-99 loss to Indiana last week]. Others are going through it.
“I thought [Kentucky coach] John [Calipari] did a good job on him. Give them some credit. I thought Miles starting doing things that he can do, but he can’t do them when it is 1-on-3. That’s a little bit of my fault. I have to do better getting through to him, because he’s an extremely coachable kid. Nobody is more hurt than he is right now and that is kind of a treat.”
Bridges finished Tuesday’s game with 6 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, but also a game-high 9 turnovers. He made 2 of 11 shots from the field, including 1 of 5 from beyond the 3-point arc, and 1 of 3 free throws.
It was a big comedown from that fabulous debut against Arizona, which also included a season’s worth of highlight-reel dunks. Kentucky has one of the most talented teams in the nation, but the Wildcats are already showing they will be one of the best defensive outfits, as well.
Bridges tried to get to the basket and he was harassed, surrounded and flummoxed by Kentucky’s array of long-limbed athletes.
“I was just thinking too fast. I wasn’t letting the game come to me,” Bridges said. “Just need to calm down when I get the ball. I let the double-teaming and when I got in the lane they doubled me, I let that get to me. I just gotta swing the ball and stay calm.
“I just need to learn how to space more and swing the ball more and trust that it is going to come back to me,” Bridges said. “I feel like I got impatient, and I was just trying to go 1-on-1. That was my fault.”
There were still flashes of majestic brilliance. Bridges had two incredible blocks in the opening few minutes. One came on the possession after Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo spiked a shot off the backboard at the other end. Bridges returned the favor, and earned even more ‘oohs’ from the Garden crowd when he swooped in and rejected Isaiah Briscoe’s lay-up attempt on a fast break.
It took until deep into the first half before he had his first bucket, but it was a dazzling one. Bridges collected the ball along the baseline and was able to turn and blow by Kentucky’s Wenyen Gabriel for a two-handed dunk before the blue-clad cavalry could arrive in support.
“Michigan State, they run great stuff. They iso and they do stuff that forced us to prepare beyond where we are right now,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We were playing the elbows and the blocks when [Bridges] had the ball. So when he drove, there was always someone in his lap, and that’s why he turned it over.”
Bridges also knocked down a 3-pointer early in the second half, but his struggles at that end of the floor continued. At one point, Izzo went without any of his four talented freshmen on the court for an extended period.
“Trust me on this. Miles Bridges is one of the most coachable, great players,” Izzo said. “He still competed. He didn’t hang his head, but he got his butt kicked tonight. You know what? Warriors, great players — they self-evaluate and get better from games like this. If he had scored 30 against the Sisters of the Poor, it wouldn’t have mattered.
“Miles, I felt for Miles. This happens to freshmen. He got frustrated. He didn’t get ticked off, but he was frustrated. They were loading up on him. Give John credit, they did a hell of a job every time he touched it. Miles has got to learn to move the ball better. It was more our lack of offensive execution than not making shots.”