NASSAU, Bahamas — After romping to victories in its first three exhibition games here, Kentucky got a taste Saturday of what Theodore Roosevelt called the "crowded hour."
A one-possession game inside the final 90 seconds made for a refreshing test. UK passed.
With freshman Tyler Ulis making a key play, Kentucky beat Champagne Chalons-Reims 77-72 to remain undefeated in five games here.
"We actually needed a test," said assistant coach Barry "Slice" Rohrssen, who directed the UK team while John Calipari again watched from the top of the bleachers opposite the benches. "... We're learning a lot about our team and, maybe as important, they're learning a lot about themselves."
The UK coaches apparently wondered how the Cats would handle the task of facing a team they beat by 23 points five days earlier. The pros, who included former LSU standout Tasmin Mitchell and an active former Syracuse center Darryl Watkins, looked much more cohesive and inspired than on Monday.
"You don't want their pride to beat any arrogance you may have," Rohrssen said. "We needed to guard against that."
The final two of Watkins' game-high 20 points reduced Kentucky's lead to 75-72 going into the final television timeout. Neither team scored again as nearly three minutes ticked off the clock and what passed for tension rose.
Interestingly, Kentucky abandoned its five-man platoon system and used a lineup mixed with starters here (Dakari Johnson, Andrew and Aaron Harrison) and second-wave shock troops (Marcus Lee and Ulis).
Rohrssen joked that the change was based on not wanting to go down in UK basketball history as the coach who lost to the French. "I actually didn't want to get voted off the island," he said.
More seriously, he added, "We're finding out about ourselves."
Ulis made what a philosophical Rohrssen suggested was a 50/50 decision pay off by hounding opposing guard Lionel Chalmers to the point he slipped to the floor. Ulis picked up the ball and sped to a thank-you-very-much layup.
"That's what he does," Rohrssen said. "He wears you down. He has quick feet and a big heart. ... You know, he stayed yard for yard, foot for foot, inch for inch, and disrupted their offense and turned it into a turnover."
Screen test: Take two
Ulis, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, got jolted by another screen. Like fellow assistant John Robic noted earlier in the week, teammates need to alert Ulis to upcoming screens.
"It's just something his teammates have to recognize," Rohrssen said. "We as a coaching staff have to keep teaching and reinforcing. Communication is the key to success. And we need to talk."
Rohrssen added another component: Ulis becomes more of a target for screens because he applies ball pressure far up the court.
Smooth-shooting freshman Devin Booker had made only six of 23 shots in UK's first four games here. He made four of six against the team from France, including two of three three-point attempts.
"Almost like a bicycle," Rohrssen said. "You get knocked off the bike, you just have to get back up on that bike and start pedaling again."
UK was playing its fifth game in seven days. But Rohrssen said that excuses were prohibited.
"Excuses are like bricks that build a road to failure," he said. "You know what I mean? We're not laying any bricks."
North Carolina loses
Bahamians who work the games as stat keepers and ticket takers were buzzing. A local team, the Providence Storms, beat North Carolina 84-83 on Friday night.
North Carolina helped. The Tar Heels made only three of 25 three-point attempts. And in a reprise of last season's free-throw struggles, UNC made only eight of 19 foul shots in losing a game despite making seven more field goals.
UNC's offensive leader, Marcus Paige, made only three of 15 shots (two of nine from three-point range).
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.