UK basketball: Cats smooth out rough start for 89-57 rout of UNC Asheville

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 8, 2013 

Kentucky's 89-57 victory over UNC Asheville Friday night reflected the bipolar utterances of Coach John Calipari this pre-season.

At Big Blue Madness, he spoke of UK basketball as "borderless" and the be all/end all of the sport. "We don't just play college basketball," he memorably said. "We are college basketball."

Three weeks later, or the day before the star-studded Cats opened the season against UNC Asheville, Calipari fretted how it was "no fair" that Kentucky would have to play a big green meanie like Michigan State next Tuesday.

The opener made Calipari sound correct on both counts.

Kentucky overpowered UNC Asheville, especially in the second half. The Cats dominated the boards 48-31 and the paint scoring 50-32.

"Lots of big, long athletes," said UNC Asheville's Nick McDevitt, who was making his debut as a college head coach. "They are a load to handle. They're going to have a nice year."

After noting that national champions often have three first-round picks, McDevitt said of the Cats, "They have more than three."

Julius Randle and Alex Poythress led UK with double-doubles: 23 points and 15 rebounds for Randle, 10 points and 13 rebounds for Poythress.

Prodding Randle like he did Terrence Jones and DeMarcus Cousins in yesteryear, Calipari said, "I got on Julius. He had 15 (rebounds). He could have had 21 or 22. Why not open up with a 20-20?"

Randle impressed McDevitt. "Rarely do you see a guy that size with that skill level and athleticism," the UNC Asheville coach said.

Poythress looked re-born. The sometimes desultory player of a year ago was animated and purposeful.

"I thought he was terrific," said Calipari, who was stingy with praise of Poythress last season. "... The biggest number was the zero he had for turnovers (in 21 minutes)."

Poythress defended better and offensively followed Calipari's wish to finish rather than initiate.

"'I'm not a playmaker,'" Calipari said he wanted Poythress to think. "'I'm going after every ball and dunking every ball.'"

Kentucky looked good enough to lead the final 10:41 of the first half, extending the margin to as much as 13 before halftime.

But poor free throw shooting and several ill-advised moments re-inforced Calipari's insistence that the Cats must grow and improve to have a chance to meet this season's stratospheric expectations.

The Cats made only 15 of their first 29 free throws. When Aaron Harrison missed two with 1:22 left in the first half, the crowd's murmur of concern could be heard.

The murmur was even louder eight minutes earlier when James Young missed a free throw.

If Calipari meant the no-fair comment as a way to prep always skittish UK fans to the possibility of defeat against Michigan State, the murmurs justified the move.

Talk of a 40-0 record seemed ever more implausible on mutliple occasions in the first half.

Randle lost the ball when unnecessarily adding flair to his dribble upcount in transition. Andrew Harrison threw a transition lob that no player got in position to receive. Randle stepped over the end line inbounding the ball. Marcus Lee missed a dunk, which was his only miss in eight shots and perhaps the only misstep in an energy-filled 15-minute stint.

The second half proved smoother sailing. The highlights included a pretty fast-break capped by a Young lob that Cauley-Stein dunked.

Cauley-Stein's hustle helped put Kentucky ahead for good. Twice he rebounded missed free throws, the first time feeding Poythress for a dunk and the second time passing to an open James Young for a three-pointer (which came more than nine minutes into the game and marked UK's first shot from beyond the arc).

The fans also liked a hustle play by Poythress. After getting his shot blocked, he retrieved the loose ball and drove with purpose for a layup.

Later, Randle tipped three times before getting a score. "The third or fourth play around the goal, no one's better," Calipari said.

By then, Kentucky's size and athleticism had exerted full control. UNC Asheville could have cried, no fair. Freshmen coming to a halt defensively.

Calipari was busy fretting. Too little passing. Poor free-throw shooting. After suggesting that Northern Kentucky could beat UK on Sunday, he returned to the the early-season schedule being unfavorable. Three games in five days meant no time to incorporate significant changes.

More or less, this Kentucky team will play Michigan State. "That's who we are right now," Calipari said.


Next game

Northern Kentucky at Kentucky

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

TV: Fox Sports South

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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