The Montevallo Falcons came into Rupp and gave Kentucky all they could handle on Monday night. Afterwards, John Calipari said that the team “has a ways to go” before it can compete with the big guys, but for now, let’s look at eight things we learned from Kentucky’s 95-72 win over the fighting DeWayne Peevy’s.
1. These babies are sloppy
Remember how bad the Cats looked in the first half against Transy? Well, that lackadaisical performance carried through to tonight. Montevallo came out fast, surging to a 9-2 lead before Cal was forced to call a timeout at the 17-minute mark. The Cats struggled to get into flow on both sides of the ball, and once again, the opposing team seemed to want it more. Kentucky was way too sloppy tonight, racking up 16 turnovers to Montevallo’s 10.
What’s the difference between the Kentucky team that thrilled at the Blue/White scrimmage and the team we’ve seen the past two exhibition games? They’re missing their point guard. Andrew Harrison sat out tonight to fully recover from his knee injury, leaving the point guard duties to Jarrod Polson. Back at shooting guard, Harrison had a good line–10 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and no turnovers–but Calipari says he wants to see more hustle from him. As he put it, “It’s like we’re playing without our quarterback. Good news is his backup looks just like him. But he’s not him.” The other good news is Andrew will return to practice on Wednesday in hopes of being ready for the season opener.
2. Julius Randle is the rock
Even though he’s just a freshman, Julius Randle is the leader of this team. It was Randle who stepped up and kept UK’s offense going when it stilled in the first half, hitting shots with such ease that we coined the term “Auto-Randle” on the live blog. He logged his second straight double-double of the season so far and led the team in scoring with 21 points and 11 rebounds. We sound like a broken record when we praise Randle at this point, but his efficiency and consistency are remarkable, especially when you consider he’s only 18-years-old. Randle does ridiculous things with such ease that you just have to shake your head and smile. When asked how to stop Randle after the game, Montevallo’s Troran Brown said it wasn’t possible: “You can’t. Real talented, strong, nice lefty. I like his game. Number one pick in the draft.”
3. James Young had the shot of the night…for the other team
The shot that everyone’s talking tomorrow about won’t be an Alex Poythress dunk or Aaron Harrison three. It will be an underhand own goal by James Young off a Willie Cauley-Stein block. Words really can’t describe it, so just hit play above.
Young’s shot was pretty much all anyone could talk about after the game, and John Calipari said that it made him laugh, but turned it into a teaching moment for his young squad: “You don’t throw the ball back at their basket. You throw at our basket and we might get a layup.” Looking back at the replay, Cal’s right–UK would have had three players off to the races had Young tossed the ball their way and not in the opponent’s basket.
Oh yeah, and when he’s not scoring baskets for the other team, James Young can still dunk, too:
4. Alex finally roared
One surprising development tonight was the inspired play by Alex Poythress. Poythress woke from his slumber and roared, reminding fans of just how good he can be. The sophomore finished with 10 points and four rebounds in 17 minutes, and could have done more if not saddled with foul trouble. Cal was pleased with his performance: “”I thought Alex played as well as I’ve seen him play. There were five possessions he gave up on, but that used to be fifteen.”
Cal said that the staff is trying to get Alex to focus on finishing plays instead of starting them: “We’re just trying to get him to be a finisher. Forget about being a play-starter, we’ve got enough of those.” Part of that is offensive rebounding, which Cal says should come natural to Poythress, whom he called the “strongest player in our gym.” Yes, stronger than Julius Randle.
5. Willie remembered how to block
Willie Cauley-Stein didn’t have a great first half. As a result, he got quite the talking to from John Calipari at halftime. That seemed to do the trick. WCS became Willie Blocking-Stein at the beginning of the second half, swatting balls like the Wildcats of yore. When asked if he felt like Anthony Davis, Willis said not exactly: “No. I felt like a dude who got his butt chewed at halftime.”
6. The Lob is a work in progress
Five of 16 UK’s turnovers came off failed lobs. For the Cats, the lob is clearly a work in progress, something that Cal says he doesn’t mind because he knows they’ll get the timing right eventually. Having their starting point guard back will help, too.
7. Troran Brown is good
Montevallo just wouldn’t die tonight. Led by Troran Brown, the Falcons were feisty (perhaps bolstered by the return of their mascot, Freddie), and got within 11 points of the Cats several times in the second half. Brown had 30 points in the game, afterwards, told reporters that he’ll tell his kids one day about his experience in Rupp–if he has any.
8. There’s a lot to do until we play Michigan State
Kentucky plays Michigan State one week from tomorrow. Raise your hand if you gulped after reading that. Kentucky has A LOT to do before then if it wants to knock off the Spartans. As Calipari put it, “We’re not a good team right now. We’ve got a nice collection of guys, but we’re not a good team.” It’s like making cornbread for the first time. You may have the finest flour, cornmeal, free-range eggs, organic milk, etc., but without the right measures, it doesn’t come out exactly right, especially if it’s missing the part that holds it all together. Andrew Harrison returns Friday night, and with him at the helm, we’ll likely see a very different Kentucky team.
The Cats have two warm-ups left in UNC-Asheville and Northern Kentucky before next Tuesday’s big test against Michigan State. Ready or not, as Cal put it, it’s on:
“So basically it’s on. And whether we’re ready or not, and we’re not, the bus is taking us to the games and the plane, and we’ve got to play games. So we’re going to have to learn as we go.”
Fall fast, and get up and watch Trey Lyles commit to Kentucky tomorrow at 12:50 p.m. ET.