Duquesne has not beaten one of the current 14 programs in the Southeastern Conference since 1978. Kentucky, which will go into Sunday night’s game as the likely new No. 1 team in the country next week, has lost only one home game to a non-conference opponent in John Calipari’s eight seasons as coach.
A matchup of a bowling ball and a peanut?
“We’re still trying to find ourselves,” Duquesne Coach Jim Ferry said Saturday. “We basically start one guy who actually wore the uniform last year.”
That lone veteran is 6-foot-11 senior Darius Lewis, whose high school career began at Lexington Tates Creek before a transfer to the IMG Academy in Florida.
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Duquesne’s other starters are two freshmen and two transfers. The likely starter at power forward, graduate transfer Kale Abrahamson, broke a hand in preseason and hasn’t played yet.
“We just need maturity and more time together,” Ferry said. “The biggest issue we have is the schedule. We’re basically playing every other day. So we’ve not had the practice time we really needed. Our practices have been our games (leading to) making decisions on the fly.”
Kentucky will be Duquesne’s third opponent in five days. So although Ferry dislikes late-night start times (“I’d rather play at 10 o’clock in the morning”), he sees the benefit of Sunday’s made-for-ESPN 9 p.m. tip. “It will allow us a little more recovery time,” he said.
The Dukes (2-2) are coming off a painful 78-77 loss to Canisius on Friday. Duquesne led 69-62 with 5:09 left. Phil Valenti’s jumper in the final seconds won it for Canisius, a team UK beat 93-69 last Sunday.
“It’s something that really can (linger),” Ferry said of the loss. “If we’re going to let it linger and we’re going to feel sorry for ourselves, that’s not going to be the right approach going into the game. That’s for sure.”
When asked for his impressions of Kentucky (3-0), Ferry was succinct. “They’re talented,” he said before laughing.
“I’ve known John (Calipari) and his teams for a long time,” Ferry said. “What people don’t realize is not only are they talented, but they play so hard and aggressively. And they just come at you and come at you and come at you.”
Duquesne will aim to limit its turnovers (the Dukes averaged 16 in the first four games) in order to reduce Kentucky’s opportunities to attack in transition.
“If you turn it over, they’re like an NBA team,” Ferry said of the Cats. “They turn turnovers into points.”
As for the Dukes, who are picked to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic 10, they hope to find long-term benefits from Sunday’s game.
“It’s a young team that has a really, really bright future,” Ferry said. “We’re getting better each day and that’s what we have to keep focusing on.”
Colleagues and friends
Ferry and Calipari have known each other for decades. Ferry attended Keene State College, which is in Keene, N.H. “Probably an hour from UMass,” he said.
Of course, Calipari began his head coaching career at UMass. Ferry worked Calipari’s camps and became friends with Calipari and John Robic.
Ferry has collaborated with Calipari and his staffers on several projects over the years.
“John Robic has been a dear, dear friend,” Ferry said, “but I’m sure that won’t make a difference tomorrow night.”
The last time
Duquesne lost to Kentucky 55-42 in the 1982 UKIT. The crowd of 23,964 is the largest for a Duquesne game in the Dukes’ 101 seasons of basketball.
Duquesne, a Catholic university in Pittsburgh with an enrollment of 10,000, has not played an SEC team since a 99-66 loss to Florida on Dec. 3, 1997. The Dukes haven’t beaten an active SEC team since Dec. 27, 1972 (a 71-66 victory over Georgia).
Duquesne’s last victory against a ranked team was against No. 10 Saint Louis on Jan. 22, 2014. The last road victory against a top-10 team was at Bradley on March 5, 1962.
Duquesne started two freshmen — Isiaha Mike and Mike Lewis II — in an opening game for only the third time in 30 years. Kentucky has started two or more freshmen in the opening game of six of Calipari’s eight seasons. Overall, 20 freshmen have started in openers for UK in that time.
Duquesne at No. 2 Kentucky
When: 9 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 3-0, Duquesne 2-2
Series: Kentucky leads 1-0
Last meeting: Kentucky won 55-42 on Dec. 17, 1982, in Rupp Arena.