(Photo via UKAthletics.com)
The fine student-athletes from Transylvania University made the three-block walk to Rupp Arena on Monday night for Kentucky’s final exhibition game of the season and they returned to the Beck Center with the expected blowout loss to the Cats and a lifetime of memories. The Pioneers, though never really in it after the first 10 minutes, helped Kentucky’s young team by exposing weaknesses and giving them another 40 minutes of game experience before the season starts in four days in Brooklyn.
Let’s talk about it…
28 points. Twenty. Eight. Points. That’s all the Cats gave up to Transylvania in the 46-point win on Monday night. After an ugly first half that ended with a 28-18 Kentucky lead, UK came out of the locker room strong and held the Pioneers to just 10 points in the final 20 minutes. Transy’s plan entering the game was to rely on the three-ball, but Kentucky pushed the experienced Transy guards out and forced them to take it to the basket or settle for long, contested jump shots. Afterwards, Transy head coach Brian Lane complimented the Cats for how well they played defense and locked his guys down.
“Last year we got off over 35, 36 three-pointers,” he said. “That was how we could stay in the game. This year we couldn’t get them off. We were trying to get 3s off and they held us only to 12 in the first half. They close so well. If one guy makes a mistake the next guy is there.”
Coach Cal, though still expecting more from his team defensively, thought they defended better against Transylvania than they did in the first exhibition game against Northwood. He said, “I like how we started the half. I like how active we were. I liked how we were deflecting balls, how we were flying and spacing the court. I liked that. But look, we are what we are. I keep saying it. ‘What is this, November what?’ We’re a November 5th team.”
“We are what we are” is the new “I like my team.” Cal said it again in his postgame radio show and then added, “We’re not very good. Maybe we can kick one in at the buzzer and (beat Maryland).”
We’ve only seen him a couple of times and the progression of Nerlens Noel’s game is already evident. Nerlens said Calipari called him the most improved player on the team and it showed on Monday when he led the team in scoring with 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. Kentucky’s star freshman showed off an improved offensive post game, which Cal credits to Nerlens’ hard work in practice with Kenny Payne. The staff wants him to be a complete basketball player, not just the shot blocker everyone in America expects him to be, and they’re “defining his post game,” as Cal put it in his postgame press conference. He said he wants Nerlens to be a basketball player who happens to block shots. And it looks like he’s well on his way.
Another new face with a great game against the Pioneers: Julius Mays. Mays got hot in the second half as Kentucky started its run when he knocked down three three-pointers early in the half. Mays went down with a knee injury not long after finding the hot hand, but he still managed to score 14 points in his 24 minutes of game action. Afterwards, Coach Cal praised his veteran two-guard for stepping up and being the team’s leader on the court. “He’s not afraid to be vocal. He’ll talk to the guys defensively on the court, where they should be, what they should have done,” Cal said.
Regarding the knee injury that left Rupp Arena silent, Mays said, “Anytime you hurt your knee, you are always thinking ‘Oh my ACL, my MCL.’ I was scared at first just because of the way I landed. I don’t like being injured. I hate being injured. I hate when people get injured. I was glad to hear the doctors say that it wasn’t anything serious, and that everything would be alright.”
He’ll return to practice on Wednesday (Kentucky is off on Tuesday) and he’ll be good to go against Maryland.
Fun Fact Of The Day: Julius Mays lived in Middlesboro as a child and his grandmother still resides in Bell County. Why are we just now finding out about this?
While Nerlens Noel and Julius Mays showcased their games, Kyle Wiltjer was ice cold with a poor outing offensively. Wiltjer shot just 2-of-8 from the field, including an uncharacteristic 0-for-5 on three-pointers. Everyone is allowed to have an off-night every now and then, but when Kyle isn’t knocking down shots, he has no business being out on the floor. Maybe that’s why he was replaced with Willie Cauley-Stein to start the second half. Let’s hope he got all the bricks out of his system on Monday night.
As much as we’d like to pretend Willie Cauley-Stein didn’t get crammed on, I guess we better give a shoutout to Transy’s Brandon Rash for the nasty dunk over our 7-footer. Brian Lane called it “something special “ but was quick to point out that his team had trouble scoring for the rest of the game. Will it get some love on SportsCenter? It should.
In UK women’s basketball news, the UK Hoops team destroyed Bellarmine, 113-33 in the 2012-13 season opener. Samarie Walker led the Wildcats in scoring with 19 points on a perfect 9-of-9 from the field. Bria Goss contributed 16 points, while redshirt-sophomore Bernisha Pinkett, A’dia Mathies, Azia Bishop and DeNesha Stallworth also reached double-figures. Matthew Mitchell’s sixth-ranked squad is going to be a lot of fun to watch this season.
Calpari asked the media (that would include us, I guess) to remind fans of the team’s telethon to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy. The two-hour fundraiser will run from 7:00-9:00 on Wednesday night with the first hour on WKYT and the second hour on the CW. He plans to auction off a lot of UK National Championship swag and memorabilia, including pieces of the Final Four floor that he signed, along with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. UK plans to deliver the check prior to tipoff in the Barclays Center on Friday.
One recruiting note before we part ways… Dakari Johnson reclassified to the 2013 class on Monday. The 6-foot-10 big man out of New York could be the top center in the class when the rankings are updated. He was the No. 3 overall player in the 2014 class before making the jump to 2013. Johnson played with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for a year at St. Patrick in New Jersey and spent his eighth grade season in Lexington at Sayre High School. He doesn’t hold an offer from UK but you can expect Cal to give him a look to fill in the paint for the 2013-14 season.
Tuesday is Election Day and that’s all we’re going to say about that. Happy voting.
Talk to you again in a few hours…