During Kentucky's 97-66 exhibition victory over Pikeville College on Monday, freshman point guard Brandon Knight continued to be arguably the brightest of the bright spots. But that doesn't mean he's immune to the trial-and-error learning process that all players experience this time of year.
UK Coach John Calipari suggested that Knight needed to put his take-charge approach into a team concept, especially because of the position he plays.
Knight took the initiative early, missing a shot off a drive with UK's second possession and scoring on the third.
"You can't just drive in the first play of the game," Calipari said. "You get everybody involved. He's got a green light, so get everyone involved (first). Then when you see spots, go take your play."
Knight, who seems a stand-up guy in post-game interviews as well as on the court, acknowledged the mistake.
"I just thought I could get to the basket and make a layup," he said. "But now from that experience I'm learning. Just try to get my teammates involved and going. Start the game off like that."
As in Kentucky's August exhibition series in Canada, Knight took charge later in the game when a stubborn opponent crept within striking distance. After Pikeville closed its deficit to 52-40 with more than 15 minutes left, Knight scored six points in less than 30 seconds. The final two also packed an emotional punch: He stole a pass and sped to a dunk that ignited the crowd and led Pikeville Coach Kelly Wells to call a timeout.
"What he does and what I like is he's a fighter," Calipari said of Knight. "He just took it and drove it like 'I'm going to do it.' So at the time, I'm going to let him just go. If nobody else wants to do it, do it all.
"But we can't win that way. We have to have him run our club."
Knight said he does not make a conscious effort to take charge. He made it sound like almost an involuntary reaction to a game's pivotal moment.
"My mentality is to just go ahead and try to push my team over that hump," he said. "It's not that I have to do it now. It just happens."
Knight traced this take-charge approach to a thirst to win he showed as a child.
"Just trying to find a way to win and crush my opponents," he said. "I cried when I lost at anything. From that point on, my parents said either you're going to be a real crybaby or you're going to be a real competitor. I guess I turned out to be a real competitor."
But as a point guard, Knight conceded, he has to make sure his teammates are part of the competitive process. Against the higher-caliber opponents to come, one player can't do it all.
"Definitely," he said. "That's why we have to as a team step up, play well collectively. Even if you're not knocking down shots, everybody giving that 100-percent effort. I think in time we'll figure that out."
Oh, those refs
UK made 32 of 37 free throws in the second half on Monday night.
For the game, the Cats made 44 of 56 as the dribble-drive offense helped induce 37 foul calls on Pikeville.
"I told our guys we weren't going to discuss that once we got out here," Wells said of his instruction to players before the post-game news conference. "(The referees) warned us. The hand-checks were going to be called."
Those calls hampered Pikeville's strategy to get physical with the kiddie Cats.
"We wanted to press up, use our hands, be as physical as we could be," Wells said. "But we were not allowed to do that."
Pikeville started four seniors against a UK team that started three freshmen.
"I don't care what anybody says," said Landon Slone, the ex-Cat who now plays for Pikeville. "It makes a difference having an older team against freshmen."
Of UK's 26 baskets, only seven involved assists.
Calipari attributed part of that to the Cats' 1-for-11 shooting from three-point range. He has touted perimeter shooting as a strength this season. But in the Blue-White Scrimmage and the exhibition against Pikeville, UK made eight of 37 three-point shots (21.6-percent accuracy).
After the exhibition against Pikeville, Calipari called perimeter shooting "one of our strengths."
Then he added, "We have to do it with numbers on our backs and people in the seats."
Calipari lamented that last season's team benefited from competitive practices. But with only 10 players this season, each Cat doesn't sense as much danger of losing his position in the pecking order.
If an injury occurs, UK would fall below the 10 needed for five-on-five drills in practice.
When asked about the tryouts for potential walk-ons that apparently was a dry hole, Calipari said. "I'm not going to put guys on (the team) just to put them on. If I don't feel comfortable (adding a walk-on), we'll stay where we are."
Then he said of the lack of depth, "It's an issue."