In the final tune-up for Tuesday's highly anticipated game against Michigan State, Kentucky overwhelmed Northern Kentucky on Sunday.
The Cats won 93-63, and it was that one-sided.
Understatement alert: Tuesday's matchup of No. 1 (UK) versus No. 2 (the Spartans) figures to be much more competitive. If it's not, a similarly dominating victory by Kentucky in Chicago would send a simple message to college basketball: Give up!
Kentucky battered NKU as evidenced by a 51-23 rebounding advantage. The equalizing effect of three-point shooting, which NKU used in nearly beating Purdue on Friday, failed to materialize. After making 13 of 26 at Purdue, the Norse made just nine of 35 shots from beyond the arc.
Julius Randle continued to be UK's most effective battering ram. He led the Cats with 22 points and 14 rebounds, which made him two-for-two in double-doubles and after two games the most productive freshman John Calipari has had in his five seasons as UK coach. Only Terrence Jones' 37 points and 17 rebounds approach Randle's 45 points and 30 rebounds.
And Randle's 55 minutes of playing time is the second fewest after two games of any of Calipari's freshman stars. DeMarcus Cousins played 37.
"I'm still missing a lot of opportunities," Randle said in echoing a familiar Calipari refrain of wanting more, more, more. "Lots of balls I should come up with. I'm still learning a lot out there."
Although it wasn't needed Sunday, Randle showed again that he can be a go-to guy when the Cats absolutely, positively need a basket or foul or both (he had two of UK's six "and-ones" against NKU).
"We definitely didn't have a go-to guy last year," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "It just kind of depended on the night, and you just went with it. ...
"This year we have a game plan of what we want to do."
Through two games, Randle has been close enough to automatic from the floor (12 of 19) and the line (a whopping 27 free throws attempted, 21 made).
"If you give me the ball in the paint, it's probably going to be a score or it's probably going to be a foul," Cauley-Stein said. "You can't do anything else but foul him."
And no matter how productive Randle is, Calipari is probably not going to be satisfied. The star freshman was not feasting on the kind of top competition he and the Cats will face Tuesday. "He should be averaging 20 rebounds a game right now, I would say," the UK coach said.
Randle, who wears the mantle of star with grace and good cheer, smiled when asked whether it was possible for him to please Calipari.
"I'll try to," he said softly. "If I get 20 (rebounds), he's going to ask for 25. I'm just out there trying my best."
The other most heralded freshmen — twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison — chipped in 16 and 13 points, respectively.
Northern Kentucky, after nearly beating Purdue on Friday, fell to 0-2. The Norse made only three of 18 three-point shots in the first half. With no inside game to speak up, further resistance was futile.
"I may be crazy to say this, but when we had two or three wide-open layups in the first couple of minutes (and) two or three wide-open threes in the first couple of minutes, and we didn't make them, I thought that relaxed Kentucky a little bit," NKU Coach Dave Bezold said. "If we would have made two or three of those shots ... we could have changed the tempo a little."
Kentucky, 2-0, never trailed. Randle and Cauley-Stein gave the game a you-can't-play-in-my-backyard tone. Randle, who had a double-double in the opener against UNC Asheville (23 points, 15 rebounds), clinched another by halftime (11 points and 10 rebounds).
Cauley-Stein was well on the way to a double-double of his own. He had seven points and nine rebounds in 12 first-half minutes. He finished with seven points and 11 rebounds.
Randle acknowledged the better competition that Michigan State promises.
"A big step up," he said. "I think we as a team are getting better. So it looks a lot better.
"But Tuesday is going to be a war."
Randle dismissed the notion of turning the game against Michigan State into a personal coming-out party. The nationally-televised (by ESPN) double-header features three of the most heralded freshmen: Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Jabari Parker of Duke and Randle.
"I'm not worried about that," Randle said. "I'm worried about getting the win. Coach is putting me in a great position to showcase myself.
"But at the end of the day, I want to win that game bad."
Kentucky vs. Michigan State
When: 7:30 p.m.