Never mind Morehead State Coach Sean Woods' well-chronicled "sense of entitlement" comment earlier in the week. A sense of uneasiness existed in Rupp Arena on Wednesday night.
Kentucky beat Morehead State 81-70, but it was more Nicholasville Road at rush hour than carefree breezeway. The Cats needed a 16-2 second-half run to create what pro football people call separation.
The visitors' foul-like-an-Eagle style — 32 fouls — helped UK win.
Perhaps a good sign came with freshman guard Archie Goodwin leading the way with a career-high 28 points. He continued to be UK's point guard in place of Ryan Harrow, who took a leave of absence from the team to tend to a family issue and will also miss Friday's home game against LIU Brooklyn, Coach John Calipari announced earlier Wednesday.
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Kentucky had played Morehead State nine previous times, winning them all by an average of 30.2 points.
Another rout initially seemed in the offing. UK scored the first six points. Nerlens Noel was everywhere, scoring a basket, grabbing three rebounds, blocking three shots and making a pretty pass that netted Kyle Wiltjer a layup.
After Wiltjer's layup made it 6-0, Morehead State called time with 16:56 left. Who could have predicted Kentucky would not make another basket until Noel's putback with 9:06 left?
In that span, the Cats missed seven shots and committed five turnovers. Three straight UK turnovers contributed to a stunning 16-0 Morehead State run. Twice, the Eagles scored as the shot clock buzzed.
Calipari's frustration showed. When Goodwin threw an ambitious 40-foot fast-break pass that Noel couldn't handle, the UK coach could be heard exclaiming, "Why?!"
Late in the half, Alex Poythress seemed to pose as he flew in for a fast-break dunk. When Poythress banged the dunk off the rim, Calipari slowly ran both hands through his slicked-back hair.
But Poythress, who scored 20 points, also made a positive difference. After UK called time with 6:09 left and trailing 23-12, the Cats went to Poythress. That marked the first post-up basket for a supposedly post-up team.
The Cats' other staple — transition offense — failed to materialize (no fast-break points).
Kentucky still did not put Morehead State away early in the second half. Goodwin and free throws fueled a Kentucky rally. With what's becoming a trademark, Goodwin drove to a fast-break layup to give the Cats a 50-48 lead with 13:11 left.
Morehead State committed 13 fouls barely seven minutes into the second half. That enabled UK to shoot the one-and-one at the 16:24 mark and the double-bonus at 13:28.
UK went on a 16-2 run, fueled by going 7-for-8 at the free-throw line, to build a 60-50 lead with 10:22 left.
Morehead State Coach Sean Woods, a former point guard, saluted how UK has morphed into a different team without Harrow.
"He's compensated for that and he's doing a heck of a job," Woods said of Calipari. "What he's doing is giving Goodwin situations where he doesn't have to think. Whenever he had to set something up, he struggled. When he attacks the rim, he's good."
More on Harrow
Harrow had missed UK's two most recent games because of an unnamed illness.
When asked about Harrow after the game, Calipari quipped, "If I knew more, you know I'd keep it from you."
Then he added, "But I don't know more."
Harrow has made no secret of struggling to adjust to Calipari's high-volume coaching.
Calipari did not rule out the possibility that anxiety about playing for Kentucky contributed to Harrow being sidelined.
"I don't think it's that," the UK coach said before adding, "Might be some of it. He's getting better. That's the sad thing."