Clarion had a plan. As they say in boxing, everybody has a plan until they get hit.
Kentucky pummeled Clarion 108-51 Sunday night in the way you’d expect the No. 4 ranked team (coaches’ poll) to knock out a Division II team picked to finish eighth out of nine teams in its half of the conference.
The exhibition romp validated the surrounding this latest freshman-dependent UK team.
“Well, they’re as good as advertised,” Clarion Coach Marcess Williams said.
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The expected signature strategies for this UK team — suffocating defense and sizzling offensive pace — were on display.
Clarion made only two of its final 17 shots in the first half. UK Coach John Calipari’s alma mater committed 15 turnovers before halftime and 26 overall.
Kentucky defended without fouling excessively. The Cats had only six fouls in the first half and 14 overall.
66-10Kentucky advantage on points in the paint
Clarion’s misses and turnovers fueled UK’s transition offense. Officially, the Cats had only 10 fast-break points in the first half. But Kentucky doubled, if not tripled that number counting shots taken off the first or second pass in a possession.
The second half brought more of the same as Kentucky amassed cartoon-like advantages in statistics that reflect speed: 34-0 in fast-break points, 38-0 in points off turnovers and 66-10 avalanche in points in the paint.
“The sky’s the limit for Kentucky basketball right now,” the Clarion coach said. “You’ll probably see them at the Final Four this year.”
Calipari shied from — but did not reject — the Final Four talk. “It’s really early,” he said.
While premature, the Final Four talk did not surprise UK players.
“That’s our goal: to get to Phoenix,” said Sacha Killeya-Jones, one of four freshmen (and six UK players overall) to score double-digit points. “One game at a time. The focus is going 1-0 every night.”
Derek Willis, another of the double-digit scorers, found the Final Four talk almost passé.
“I said that at the beginning of the summer,” he said. “Once I kind of got a look at everyone … from what I saw, yeah, easily.”
Clarion, which started three seniors and two juniors, had hoped a decided advantage in experience might make for a competitive game.
“I was trying to tell my guys, these guys at Kentucky are phenomenal players,” the Clarion coach said on Friday. “And I’m not taking nothing away from them. But they’re still 18. We have 22-, 23-year-olds. We got older guys who have been around the block a little bit.”
Although he had spoken before of shocking the world, Williams only hinted at the possibility of basketball drama this night.
“You know, you’re still going into Rupp Arena,” he said. “You’re still going against some of the best athletes in the world. But they’re still 18, And this is still the first (game in the glare of) lights, so hopefully we can play off that. Hopefully we can make some plays, get some confidence early. Confidence breeds success. And hopefully we make enough plays to compete and try to pull out a win.”
Kentucky never trailed, led by double digits barely six minutes into the game and expanded that lead to as much as 26 points before halftime.
The only change in the second half saw Isaiah Briscoe come alive. UK’s appointed leader did not take a shot until making a layup with 13:56 left. Ninety seconds later, he thrilled the crowd by swishing a three-point shot from the right corner.
Malik Monk led the six UK players in double digits with 15 points. Bam Adebayo and Derek Willis added 13 each, De’Aaron Fox and Killeya-Jones had 12 and Briscoe chipped in 11.
BJ Andrews, who had been voted to his pre-season all-conference team, was Clarion’s only scorer in double digits. He had 16 points.
Speaking of league play, the Clarion coach suggested Kentucky was ready right now for Southeastern Conference competition.
“They’re ready to play,” he said. “If the SEC started tomorrow, you know they’re going to be able to compete for a championship.”
Exhibition: Asbury at Kentucky
7 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network)