Kentucky took a different route to another rout Friday night.
Instead of the perimeter sharp-shooting featured in a landslide victory over Ottawa Monday, the Cats kept the long guns holstered against Kentucky State. A 111-58 victory in the final exhibition suggested Kentucky has options in not only winning, but pulling away from an opponent.
With freshman Skal Labissiere leading the way, Kentucky overpowered Kentucky State with a 64-20 advantage in points from the paint. Labissiere was a post-up machine, scoring all 22 of his points in the second half.
It was quite a contrast to Labissiere's barely-there first half (one shot, no points).
"I came out with no energy out there ... ," Labissiere said. "Something I'm still working on. Keeping the same level of play both halves."
UK Coach John Calipari used an ultimatum to inspire a better second half from the freshman from Haiti.
"You've got to be kidding me," Calipari termed Labissiere's first half. "You know what I told him at halftime? We're throwing it to you every time. I don't care. You can go 1-for-15 or you can go prove you're the player you are. And he proved it."
After halftime, Labissiere established himself early and often. He scored UK's first basket of the second half on a post-up.
Later, Labissiere scored on three post-ups in barely more than a minute. The trio of baskets showed his potential versatility as a low-post scorer. First, he scored on what he considers his favorite move: turn into the lane from the left block and take a right-handed hook over his left shoulder.
Labissiere got creative 43 seconds later. Again from the left block, he turned to the baseline and swished a left-handed hook over his right shoulder.
Labissiere completed the post-up trifecta from the right block.
As if to prove he hadn't abandoned his preferred face-the-basket game, Labissiere later hit a turnaround shot from the elbow.
Clearly feeling it, Labissiere also added a nifty basket: fake left, then turn right into the lane from the left block.
It was quite a display from a player who only the day before said he's still learning how to be a post-up scorer.
"That's something we work on every day at the beginning of practice," he said. "I just have to learn to get more comfortable doing it in games."
Labissiere credited Calipari's halftime ultimatum.
"He sounded really confident in me," he said. "Coach Cal, when he talks to me, he's always confident. Sometimes, I think he's more confident in myself than I am in myself."
Coaches, like mothers, always see room for improvement. Calipari already had his sights set on how Labissiere get better. "What we've got to start working on with him is being double-teamed," Calipari said. "We haven't done any of that yet."
This had a spider-inviting-the-fly-into-its-web quality. Later in the post-game news conference, Calipari said that opponents double-teaming the post would open up room for UK's guards to operate.
Labissiere was not the only UK player to experience a personal revival against Kentucky State.
Calipari used the word "breakthrough" to describe Alex Poythress' performance (13 points, eight rebounds, four blocks). Poythress' surgically repaired left knee (torn anterior cruciate ligament in mid-December) seemed to recede further into history.
"This is a mental breakthrough," Calipari said. "Now, you saw spurts ... where you said, 'Woo.' But that's got to be who he is. Not every once in a while."
Poythress pointed to put-back dunks as a good sign.
"That's just instincts (that) take over," he said. "And you just react to the ball. It's real good. You don't think of the knee at all."
Then, there was Derek Willis. Coincidentally or not, the tenor of the game changed about that time when Isaiah Briscoe and Willis entered the game. Suddenly, UK's full-court pressure created turnovers, which created transition baskets.
Kentucky outscored Kentucky State 34-4. A heady pass by Willis highlighted UK's avalanche. He took a lob pass, then re-directed the ball to Poythress rather than attempt a contested shot. Poythress dunked.
"Now, he's like the first guy you want to put in because he can play the four, the three," Calipari said of Willis.
Willis said his position and role are not defined as of yet.
"I still don't know what my position will be," he said. "I kind of don't really fit in anywhere. I can play the three. Or I can play the four. I don't really have a set position like certain players on the team.
"I don't know. It's just going to be weird on Cal. It's going to be kind of difficult for him."
But, based on Kentucky's average margin of victory of 56 points in two exhibitions, it might not be all that difficult.