CHICAGO — Now we know how to interpret John Calipari's laughable claim that Kentucky playing Michigan State in the Champions Classic Tuesday was "no fair."
It was a cry for help. Stop me before I schedule again.
For a while, it appeared the Spartans were too experienced and too talented for Kentucky's Kiddie Cats to handle.
But after falling behind by as much as 15 in the first half, Kentucky showed plenty of veteran resolve. Well, plenty of Julius Randle put a scare in the supposedly unflappable Spartans.
It wasn't enough to prevent a 78-74 victory for Michigan State, but it made a statement.
Before the game, ESPN commentator Jalen Rose noted how a veteran team would look at ballyhooed freshmen.
"Older guys always like to slap younger guys," he said. "and show them who's boss."
If State wanted to put UK in its place, that place befits this game's No. 1-versus-No. 2 billing.
Randle led UK with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Twenty-three of his points and nine of his rebounds came in a monster second half.
Kentucky fell behind 10-0 barely three minutes into the game, never got closer than seven the rest of the first half and trailed 44-32 at intermission. During the "lost" season of 2012-13, the Cats faced a double-digit deficit going into the second half only four times.
The way the game started put new meaning to all the pre-season talk of 40-0. Except that looked like a plausible Michigan State lead this night.
UK missed its first five shots in falling behind 10-0 with 16:47 left. In trying to stem the tide, Calipari twice called timeouts before the first television timeout.
Calipari wondered how Kentucky's freshmen would handle adversity. He found out.
The Cats pressed. Dakari Johnson bulled to the basket recklessly. Aaron Harrison missed a forced shot on the drive, and Andrew Harrison tried a no-look pass to a spot Johnson had vacated. Those plays were part of miserable first half for the twins (one for seven shooting).
As Calipari predicted Monday, Michigan State contained Randle around the basket and invited him to shoot jumpers. He took only one shot in the game's first nine minutes. His only basket came on a post-up with 4:47 left. With the Cats trailing 28-17 and teetering, he took and missed a three-point shot.
Riding a visibly energetic Randle, Kentucky made a charge early in the second half. Three straight baskets by Randle helped get the Cats within 46-40 with 17:46 left. That was as close as UK had been since the score was 6-0.
At this most inopportune time, Kentucky's youth showed itself again. A small margin for error didn't stop Andrew Harrison from attempting a long fast-break pass that Aaron Harrison couldn't corral. Then Randle got stripped on back-to-back possessions.
State reassumed a double-digit lead when Keith Appling lost Andrew Harrison with a cut to the basket that netted a layup.
When it seemed all was lost, Kentucky rallied again. Randle scored seven straight points (and nine of 11 for UK) to bring the Cats within three points at the 8:38 mark.
It wasn't easy, but Kentucky kept battling and methodically closing the margin. If UK had made more than 20 of 36 free throws, victory might have been the result.
Ironically, two Randle free throws tied it at 66-66 with 4:48 left.
Thirty seconds later, State led by five. Appling hit a three-pointer from the corner. Then Harris stripped Young near mid-court and converted a layup.
Kentucky got as close as 76-74 inside the final 30 seconds. But Branden Dawson's tip-in with 5.7 seconds left sealed it.
Robert Morris at Kentucky
When: 7 p.m. TV: ESPN2
What: Keightley Classic
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.