On paper, exhibition games don’t matter.
This one did. In the first of two exhibition games, Kentucky posted a 97-66 rout over Pikeville College Monday night at Rupp Arena in what should be a learning tool for the Wildcats leading up to the team’s season-opener against East Tennessee State on Nov. 12 at Rupp Arena.
“If we learn from this, this was a great game to play,” Kentucky coach John Caliapri said. “If we don't learn from this, we got to do it some other way. I got to get them to understand. That means probably got to get meaner, which I don't like to do. Just learn. You know what just happened. Let's get better.
“It wasn't just that guy, that guy. I mean, right up and down the line at every position. I couldn't take seeing a free ball and their guy pushing us out of the way and grabbing it. We don't win that way. My teams, we get that ball.”
Despite the seemingly easy victory over the Bears, John Calipari still doesn’t know what to expect from his team. Calipari’s starting lineup featured four guards – Darius Miller, Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and DeAndre Liggins – and forward Terrence Jones.
It took a few minutes for the Cats to adjust and match Pikeville’s aggressiveness.
“The thing with a game like this, I think Pikeville came out, which every team we play does, with a high energy level and aggressiveness,” he said. “They were pretty big kids. They were seniors. They banged our freshmen around.”
His top scorer was Knight, who finished with 22 points, with 16 of those coming in the first half. At one stretch in the first half, Knight scored six straight points in an 18-4 run by the Wildcats that overturned a three-point deficit and gave the Cats the lead for good.
“When he saw we were dying, he took it and drove it, like I'm going to do it,” Calipari said. “At times I'm going to just let him go. If no one else wants to do it, go do it all.”
Knight is clearly the most athletic player on the team. The freshman guard had a steal and threw down a thundering one-handed slam with 13:40 remaining in the contest. His presence gives the Wildcats a natural scorer in the backcourt.
However, Calipari added that his team can’t solely depend on Knight to carry the Wildcats in the scoring department and run the offense on a consistent basis once the season officially begins.
“We can't do it that way,” he said. “We have to have him run our club. He's a scoring guard that has to run our club. We only had seven assists.”
As expected, Kentucky struggled in the post – especially in the offensive rebounding department - and will continue to do so until the NCAA makes a ruling regarding the status of freshman Enes Kanter. Even if Kanter is ruled eligible, he will have to make up for more than a month of practice and play catch up for at least another month.
Kentucky held a 52-35 edge in total rebounds, but managed just 15 boards on the offensive end.
Despite the absence of a DeMarcus Cousins-like presence in the post, the Wildcats will have more speed and quickness than last season and will rely more on the dribble-drive motion scheme. Jones is quicker and faster than Cousins and will give opponents trouble with his left-handed jumper and floater in the lane.
It’s only the beginning of a long season, but it appears that the spread-guard offense will be Kentucky’s theme this year.
Story by Keith Taylor.
Big Blue Blog: Knight a "mismatch nightmare."