LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky coach John Calipari may have gotten exactly what he wanted from Friday night’s exhibition game against Transylvania.
The Wildcats looked far from the nation’s top team in a 76-42 win over their crosstown Division III opponent, providing Calipari with a wealth of teaching opportunities between now and the season opener against UNC Asheville on Nov. 8.
"The biggest thing we learned is energy and effort trumps talent," Calipari said. "... We have a ways to go. Like I told the guys after, that doesn't look like the No. 1 team to me.”
Kentucky struggled to pull away from the Pioneers in the first half, leading only 41-30 at halftime and forcing Calipari to give perhaps the earliest tough-love message he’s delivered to a team during his five seasons in Lexington.
Freshman swingman James Young battled for a loose ball in Kentucky’s exhibition win over Transylvania. (FOX Sports Photo by Jeff Drummond.)
“We didn't get a breakout (in the first half),” Calipari said. “There's the difference between running and sprinting. We have a lot of guys that running has always been good enough... You can't be on the court then. You know, it's OK, but you can't be out there.”
Unlike last year’s tumultuous season, which ended with a humbling loss to Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT, the UK boss has a tool available to him when his young team isn’t displaying the energy he’d like to see: a deep bench.
The Wildcats got solid contributions from reserves Dakari Johnson (9 points, 8 rebounds in 17 minutes of action) and Derek Willis (6 points on 2-of-3 shooting from long range). And perhaps the biggest ovation of the night from the Rupp Arena crowd of 20,740 came when two more reserves, Dominique Hawkins and Jon Hood, executed a highlight-reel fast-break lob and dunk in the second half.
It was part of a more energetic half for Kentucky, although the period did include one break in the action which saw Calipari pull the starting five collectively for five subs when Transylvania out-hustled the Cats for a loose ball.
“The greatest tool I have is that bench,” Calipari said. “Sit down and cheer. Sit down and cheer.”
Transylvania coach Brian Lane, who has now played an exhibition game against each of the last three UK squads, said he knows how difficult it is for Calipari to bring in so many newcomers every season.
“There is so much learning that has to take place with freshmen, and I don’t care how good and how talented and how big (they are) – it just is going to take a little time,” he said. “… When is the next exhibition game? – I feel sorry for that team because you will see a much more energized (UK team).”
Lane added that he thought this UK team had the potential to be as good or better than the 2012 national championship squad - once all the pieces come together.
Kentucky used those pieces (and its great size advantage) to gradually pull away in the second half, holding the Pioneers to only 12 points after the break. The Cats had a massive 38-6 scoring advantage in the paint.
Freshman forward Julius Randle led UK with a game-high 16 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman wing James Young followed with nine points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Sophomore center Willie-Cauley Stein added seven points, seven rebounds and four steals.
The Cats played without highly-touted freshman point guard Andrew Harrison, who was held out with a bone bruise on his knee. His twin brother, Aaron Harrison, had eight points, but shot only 3-of-10 in sliding over to the lead guard position.
Transylvania was led by guards Trevor Tiller and Logan Wade with 11 and 10 points respectively. Eight of the Pioneers’ 14 made field goals came from 3-point range.
• Kentucky started with the lineup of Aaron Harrison, James Young, Alex Poythress, Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein.
• UK shot 50 percent (29 of 58) from the field, 50 percent at the line (11 of 22) and 35 percent (7 of 20) from 3-point range.
• The Wildcats made 3-pointers on their first three possessions and hit six of their first eight from long range.
• UK returns to the court Monday, Nov. 4, as the Wildcats play host to Montevallo. The exhibition game is at 7:00 p.m. EST and will be televised live by Fox Sports South and delayed on the UK IMG Network.