Going into Friday night's basketball season opener against Virginia Military Institute, Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie sounded confident that his team had learned from its exhibition missteps.
Not that the Cats stumbled and bumbled in beating the exhibition competition by an average of 40 points.
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But Gillispie did lament a feeling of satisfaction that seeped into practices after a blowout of Missouri-St. Louis. Apparently the practices following a more charitable beating of Ouachita Baptist came closer to meeting the standard the coach seeks.
"The team worked extremely hard," he said Wednesday. "They have all the intangibles you could possibly possess."
Gillispie's sunny outlook included another mention of one cloud: The flood of three-pointers that allowed Ouachita Baptist to quickly reduce the final margin to less embarrassing dimensions.
Individually, forward Perry Stevenson posted gaudy numbers against Ouachita Baptist. His 20 rebounds would have equaled a Rupp Arena record had the game counted. But in his post-game remarks, Gillispie downplayed the statistics while noting that missed assignments made for "one of Perry's poorest performances."
When asked how Stevenson had reacted, Gillispie said, "He's had the best two practices I've seen him have the last two days.
"He understands the stakes are raised for him. He understands for us to raise (our) stakes, he has to be a very good player all the time, on every possession."
One lesson that Kentucky apparently doesn't need to relearn is that upsets occur. About this time last year Gardner-Webb beat Kentucky.
Gillispie brushed off the suggestion that Kentucky players might be "haunted" by that defeat and therefore ready to ensure that there's no repeat.
"They didn't look haunted in conference (play) last year," the UK coach said. "I think they're a little bit tougher than that."
Gillispie declined to name his starters, although it seems safe to say the lineup will include All-America candidate Patrick Patterson, Jodie Meeks, Ramon Harris, Michael Porter and Stevenson. Those five started both exhibition games. The only other players to average double-digit minutes in the exhibitions were freshmen Darius Miller (13.0 mpg) and DeAndre Liggins (14.5 mpg).
Gillispie reaffirmed an earlier comment that Porter led the point guard competition. "Experience is always a good deal," the UK coach said.
Gillispie also defended junior-college transfer Kevin Galloway's ultimate value to Kentucky. Galloway, who was expected to contend for point guard minutes, averaged only five minutes in the exhibitions.
After noting how Galloway is learning his third system in three seasons, Gillispie said, "I'm not disappointed with Kevin at all. He's trying hard. It's just a matter of time before it starts clicking for him at that spot."
However the point guard position evolves, Gillispie said that no player will monopolize the spot the way Ramel Bradley did last season.
"No one is going to have to play Ramel minutes (35.1 mpg)," the UK coach said. "Nor will Patrick have to play the minutes he did (35.7 mpg). Although we want him to play, he's not going to have to play every single minute."
Gillispie noted that transfer Matt Pilgrim and walk-ons Jarvis Walker and Matt Scherbenske will not play against VMI.
Pilgrim is awaiting an NCAA ruling on an appeal of the requirement that transfers sit out a season. The appeal has been filed, Gillispie said.
Walker will not play until at least the end of the fall semester as he tries to get his academic house in order. Scherbenske has a knee injury.
VMI Coach Duggar Baucom survived a heart attack. He was stricken at age 30 in 1990.
He said that the same heart muscle disorder that killed Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers runs in the Baucom family.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy claimed the VMI coach's uncle at age 20. Baucom's father died at age 42 on the operating table.
Baucom had a defibrillator implanted in his chest.