UK Rolls Over Transylvania in Exhibition
Transylvania coach Brian Lane has been among the first to see Kentucky each of the past three seasons, each in one of Kentucky’s customary two exhibition games before the season begins. Lane’s goal Friday was not to win; that may sound crazy for a competitive basketball coach to say, but his larger point was to stay competitive, play hard and give good looks toward Kentucky so that John Calipari has good film to look at to get better.
Well, Kentucky won 76-42, and Lane accomplished his goals, too. The Wildcats came out flat in the first half—well, that’s to say they were flat after making their first three shots, all 3-pointers, in the first 90 seconds of the game—and remained so for the entire first half.
Calipari’s halftime locker room surely wasn’t pleasant—a detail Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Jarrod Polson (all three players available to media after the game) confirmed—and whatever it is he said, didn’t say, did or didn’t do, it seemed to work. Kentucky scored the first 13 points of the second half, taking a 54-30 lead with 15:19 to play. The Pioneers did not score their first points of the second half until a Logan Wade jumper with 14:24 to go. Over the first 10 minutes of the second half, Kentucky went on a 23-2 run.
“I didn’t think we were going to get to score,” Lane said.
The lingering effects of that first half made for an unhappy Calipari after the game. It’s a lesson he’s had to teach his teams each time they’ve played Transylvania: “The biggest thing that’s learned is energy and effort trumps talent. It just does,” Calipari said. Of course, this year’s team has nine freshmen and only a handful were around the other times the lesson was inevitably passed down. Telling players they have no choice but to play hard the first time they get in front of a Rupp Arena crowd and the first time they’re playing a different team after months of pick-up games and practice scrimmages—telling players to play through those initial nerves and moments of uncertainty is one thing. Actually experiencing the rush and figuring out how to do it is another thing entirely.
The thing about this year’s team is: If somebody isn’t playing hard, Calipari has so much depth that he can yank someone from the game for not playing hard enough and not think twice about it. Twice against Transylvania, Calipari subbed in five brand-new guys at a time.
“That’s a pretty firm message, and it’s true, because we have so many guys, so many players that came here to win,” Randle said. “And if you’re not trying to win basketball games and compete and play hard, then you don’t deserve to be on the court.”
Oh yes, the game: Randle had 16 points and 12 rebounds, though after the game he said rebounding was about the only thing he thought he did particularly well. Andrew Harrison, the Wildcats’ presumed starting point guard, did not play because of a bone bruise in his knee. John Calipari started Aaron Harrison at the point guard, along with Randle, James Young, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. Once all players concerned are healthy, the starting lineup will likely feature Andrew Harrison instead of Poythress.
In an interesting personnel decision, Marcus Lee did not enter the game until about 15 minutes remained in the second half. It was a coach’s decision and not because of injury, according to a UK spokesperson. Lee immediately showed his much-talked-about athleticism upon hitting the floor, soaring from under the basket to attempt a put-back slam. The ball went in, but Lee was called for offensive goaltending. He finished with three points and two rebounds.
Young finished with nine points, five rebounds and five assists for the Wildcats, shooting 4-of-9 from the floor and 1-of-5 from 3-point range. His one make was the first field-goal attempt of the game, a three 20 seconds after Willie Cauley-Stein won the opening tip.
The effort certainly increased in the second half, and Randle said that was simply a factor of needing to recalibrate after whatever it was dragging the Wildcats down the first 20 minutes. Those things happen, as Lane has seen for three seasons in a row now, and history is unkind to the second exhibition opponent after the UK freshmen get a glimpse of their first game. In 2011-12, Kentucky won its second exhibition game over Morehouse 125-40, a game after Lane and the Pioneers walked down Broadway from Transy’s campus to Rupp Arena.
“I tell you what, they will come out—when is the next exhibition game? I feel sorry for that team,” Lane said, “because you will see a much more energized team.”
Photo: In his first exhibition game at Rupp Arena, freshman Julius Randle had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Kentucky beat Transylvania 76-42. (Photo by James Pennington)