Kentucky's Blue-White Game on Tuesday night featured almost as many dunks as fouls, which even at this ultra-early stage had to be a double-dose of positive portent going into the 2013-14 season.
With referees expected to call games tightly to help increase scoring this season, UK Coach John Calipari has emphasized the need to avoid excessive fouling. The Cats looked like they had been paying attention. The 20 fouls equaled a low for a Blue-White Game in Calipari's five seasons and were nearly half the average number in a UK game last season (38).
"And we were driving every possession, folks," Calipari told reporters afterward. "It's not like we're running patterns. We're driving. So in that game there were about 60 to 80 drive attempts. To have 20 fouls between your teams is pretty incredible."
The teams combined for only four fouls in the first 14 minutes, and had just eight in the first half. For Willie Cauley-Stein, the idea of defending without fouling was a revelation.
"You're used to being fouled all the time," he said. "You're used to having a hand on you all the time."
Calipari's repeated emphasis on limiting contact fueled frustration. "Everybody can score," Cauley-Stein said. "It was bucket after bucket.
"To see it (work) in a live setting, I get it now. It makes more sense."
Offensively, Kentucky hopes to take advantage of its size. The teams dunked 18 times, but also showed a willingness to shoot three-pointers judiciously.
James Young was the star of stars among UK freshmen. His 25 points led the Blue team to a 99-71 victory.
"James Young is what he is," Calipari said. "That's what you saw today. What James Young could be is — forget about just scoring and getting to the rim. He can really defend. He comes up with balls and steals."
Julius Randle (21 points, eight rebounds), Dakari Johnson (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Cauley-Stein (15 points, seven rebounds) contributed to a whopping 98 points from the paint.
Aaron Harrison had 19 points, six assists and four steals. His twin brother, Andrew, did not play in the second half because of what UK said was a bruise on his right knee.
"Whoever has made this thing that one of them is way better than the other is crazy," Calipari said of the conventional wisdom that Andrew is much the better player than Aaron.
Derek Willis led the White team with 21 points. He made five of six three-point shots, the final one beyond NBA range.
A record crowd for the Blue-White Game of 15,035 watched the action. The previous record was 14,060 in 2009.
The first half saw more dunks (10) than fouls (eight). Of those eight fouls, two included an illegal screen by Johnson and a bit of over-aggressiveness by Lee near mid-court. In terms of avoiding fouls in half-court defense, the Cats played a clean first half. The two teams shot only four free throws.
Randle and Cauley-Stein led the dunk parade with three each.
Randle had the most memorable first-half slam. It came seconds after he missed a spinning dunk set up by his baseline drive. As if to make amends, he drove with purpose on the next possession. A jab step to the left froze Lee, who could only watch as Randle drove to the rim and dunked.
Walk-on EJ Floreal caused a stir by dunking on Randle.
When asked what happened, Randle smiled and said, "I don't really know. I was on the weak side, I saw him. At first, I was, like, I'm not about to jump. Just let him go."
Then, Randle changed his mind. "What the heck, I'm going to jump," Randle said.
Too late. By then, Floreal was near the rim. "He got me," Randle said.
Two students won a drawing that means Calipari will pay their tuition for the spring semester. The students — freshman Amanda Dowell of Stanford and senior Josh Lawson of Boyle County — sat on either side of Calipari at the beginning of the post-game news conference.
Dowell, a biology major, said Calipari's offer of a scholarship brought her to the game.
"Because my mom called me and told me there was a scholarship available," she said of her presence in Rupp. "'You better get there.'"
Lawson, who majors in mechanical engineering, had a similar motivation.
"I have a pretty big test to study for," he said. "I said, the odds are good enough. I probably ought to come."
Calipari said the odds of winning the drawing were 250-to-1.
Lawson called Calipari a "pretty awesome guy."
To which, the UK coach said in a deadpan voice, "Thanks."
As Groucho Marx once said: Hello, I must be going ...
That describes referee John Hampton's involvement in UK basketball. He worked the Blue-White Game for the 15th straight year. He's never worked a regular-season UK game.
Entering his 18th season officiating SEC games, Hampton cannot work Kentucky games because he lives in Lexington and is a UK graduate.
Important upcoming dates
Season preview: Get our 32-page special section in Sunday's paper.
Exhibition: Transylvania at Kentucky, 7 p.m. Friday
Exhibition: Montevallo at Kentucky, 7 p.m. Monday
Regular-season opener: UNC Asheville at Kentucky, 7 p.m. Nov. 8