LEXINGTON, Ky. – A nice collection of talent, but far from a team.
That was John Calipari’s assessment of his Wildcats after their 95-72 exhibition victory over Montevallo on Monday at Rupp Arena in No. 1 Kentucky’s final tune-up for the regular season.
“I thought we played better than we did last game, and that’s all I’m asking,” Calipari said. “… We made strides. We’re better. We had five guys in double figures and another have eight and another have nine. But the one thing I’m telling everybody, we’re still not a good team, offensively or defensively, yet.
“We’re a ways away now, folks.”
Kentucky opens the regular season on Friday against UNC Asheville. After that, a marquee matchup with No. 2 Michigan State awaits on Nov. 12 in Chicago at the Champions Classic.
Montevallo is a far cry from Tom Izzo’s Spartans, but the Division II program earned respect from the the Wildcats and the Rupp Arena crowd of 20,039 for their competitive showing with the nation’s top-ranked team. The Falcons opened the game with a 9-2 lead, trailed only 46-35 at halftime and were within the same 11-point margin 7:44 remaining in the game before UK gradually pulled away for a comfortable win.
“Montevallo, the greatest thing, was they came out – there were juniors and seniors – and kids balled,” Calipari said. “They weren’t afraid. They were physical. They banged. They were not backing down… This was a good game for us. I’m glad we played this team, and I’m glad they played the way they played.”
In the end, Kentucky just had too much size and too much overall talent for the scrappy visitors, despite playing its second straight game without starting point guard Andrew Harrison, who is recovering from a bruised knee.
Freshman All-American candidate Julius Randle paced Kentucky with 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the floor and 11 rebounds. Fellow freshman James Young followed with 16 points for the Cats and, in perhaps the most memorable sequence of the night, two points for Montevallo when he attempted to save a loose ball along the sideline, but tossed it over his shoulder and into the Falcons’ basket.
“It’s a great teaching lesson,” Calipari said of leading a team with nine newcomers. “When you’re coaching this many young guys… it made me laugh.”
Kentucky also got double-figure scoring from sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein (12), sophomore forward Alex Poythress (10) and freshman guard Aaron Harrison (10). Cauley-Stein added six blocked shots for the Cats, while Harrison dished out seven assists and committed no turnovers in often playing his twin brother's normal role.
UK shot 58 percent (36 of 62) from the field and held a 47-25 rebounding advantage.
Montevallo got memorable individual performance from guard Troran Brown, who scored a game-high 30 points on 12-of-34 shooting from the field.
But afterward, it was Brown who was in awe of some of the players he squared off against. Asked how you stop UK’s Randle, the Falcons’ star said: “You don’t. He looks like a No. 1 (NBA draft) pick to me.”
Randle had eight points in the key stretch of the second half as UK extended an 11-point lead to 20 with 2:44 remaining. Most of those points came around the rim after the talented freshman had spent the majority of the game honing his perimeter skills in Calipari’s Dribble-Drive Motion offense.
“You can see I’m teaching him to play out on the floor, but when the game’s on the line, where’s he going? He’ll get that ball next to the basket and get something good,” Calipari said.