Kentucky beat Translyvania 76-42 Friday night. But that wasn't the competition that occupied UK Coach John Calipari's mind.
"Energy and effort trump talent," he said before adding a moment later, "Obviously, our talent is not playing with enough effort."
Transy, which started only one player taller than UK's shortest starter, did what Calipari predicted many opponents will do this season. The Pioneers sagged their defense into the lane, hoping to choke off the Dribble-Drive options and induce UK to shoot from the perimeter.
Transy also made transition defense a top priority. "Every time we shot, we sent two guys back on defense," Coach Brian Lane said.
This worked fairly well for a half. Then Kentucky turned up the intensity enough in the second half to win by a comfortable margin.
"We couldn't score in the second half," Lane said. "... You could see the intensity in their eyes. You could tell they didn't want us to get closer."
UK's greater intensity and effort coalesced with about six minutes left. Dominique Hawkins took a pass in transition and immediately re-directed a lob over the basket that Jon Hood slammed home.
That play produced the biggest cheer from the Rupp Arena crowd. More importantly, it punctuated a second half that saw the Cats return to supposed strength: power play and Dribble-Drive action at the basket. UK matched its 14 first-half points from the paint barely 10 minutes into the second half.
The Hawkins-Hood connection came less than a minute after Calipari made the second of two five-player substitutions within less than two minutes. Those moves were a hiccup in a second half that saw Kentucky dominate. Or maybe the substitutions were an alert: Calipari will not hesitate to sit players if he doesn't like what he sees.
"The greatest tool I have is that bench," Calipari said. Play hard is one option. The other? "Sit down and cheer," the coach said.
Although Calipari has repeatedly noted that poor effort can enable another player to get on the floor, it seemed shocking to see it happen.
Of Calipari's threat of benchings, Randle said the player attitude was, "Yeah, OK."
Then he added, "For it to actually happen" was a good lesson. "The best thing for life in general is to learn from experience," he said.
In the first half, Kentucky had as many attempts from three-point range (14) as from the foul line (14). That suggested an over-reliance on perimeter shooting and not enough attention to using an overwhelming height advantage to pound Transy inside.
"It's easy to settle (for perimeter shots) because that's the easy thing to do," said Julius Randle, the only UK player to crack double figures (16 points and 12 rebounds).
Perhaps UK got three-point happy when James Young, Aaron Harrison and Randle made three-point shots inside the first 90 seconds. That put the Cats ahead 9-3, but might have fostered the belief that long-range shooting would make light work of Transy.
"We were going to give up the three," Lane said. The Pioneers concentrated on cutting off any driving attempts. Calipari lamented that UK did not show more patience in finding driving opportunities."
Kentucky had 14 points from the paint in building a 41-30 halftime lead. That didn't seem like much since Transy started only one player taller than UK's emergency point guard, 6-6 Aaron Harrison. It was especially glaring given how Kentucky amassed 98 points from the paint in Tuesday's Blue-White Game.
Almost by default, Transy had to rely on three-point shooting. Two-thirds of the Pioneers shots in the first half came from beyond the arc (18 of 27).
The second half featured an inside-oriented UK team. The Cats did not attempt a three-point shot until the 13:24 mark.
Meanwhile, eight of the first 11 points came from the paint as UK's lead ballooned to 52-30 at the first TV timeout. Four of the paint points were memorable: a drive in transition that Randle flushed and, perhaps more tellingly, a post-up basket by Willie Cauley-Stein. What made that basket significant was the feed; Young passed up a wide-open three-point shot to throw the ball into Cauley-Stein.
Ten of UK's first 15 points in the second half came from the paint. That helped put the Cats ahead 59-32.
"We have a ways to go," Calipari said. "It doesn't look like a No. 1 team to me."
The good news is Kentucky has a lot of time to go where it wants to go. The season doesn't start until next Friday. First comes Monday's second exhibition game.
"So much learning has to take place with freshmen," Lane said. "I don't care who you are."
Lane all but predicted a better UK effort against Montevallo in the second and final exhibition game Monday.
"I feel sorry for that team," Lane said, "because you're going to see a much more energized (UK team)."
Exhibition: Montevallo at Kentucky
When: Monday, 7 p.m.