Fans of free-throw shooting probably liked Kentucky's 81-63 victory over Eastern Michigan Wednesday. For everyone else, there was always the anticipation of Thanksgiving.
Fouls and free throws marked UK's victory in the final game of the untrumpeted Keightley Classic, which was not a tournament nor a classic. Although playing its trademark 2-3 zone throughout, Eastern Michigan threatened the Rupp Arena record for fouls (36 by LSU on Jan. 25, 1982). The Vikings committed 31.
When asked how a zone team could foul so much, Eastern Michigan Coach Rob Murphy said, "That's a great question."
Kentucky, which made one more field goal than Eastern Michigan, hit 28 of 40 free throws. That one-free-throw-per-minute clip compensated for the offensive struggles of UK's two leading scorers.
Julius Randle (19.8 ppg) extended his streak of double-doubles to seven. But his 14 points and 10 rebounds came the hard way.
James Young (13.3 ppg) failed to make a three-pointer for the first time. He missed all six attempts from beyond the arc.
UK Coach John Calipari lamented how Randle and Young split 10 turnovers. "C'mon," Calipari said. "Two good basketball players."
Or maybe he meant too good to contribute to a game's collective 33 turnovers. There were only 20 assists.
Aaron Harrison led the Cats with 22 points. Willie Cauley-Stein flirted with a triple-double: 15 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks.
Calipari rushed Cauley-Stein into the game with a timeout 48 seconds after tipoff. And that was tardy, he said. Calipari (jokingly?) said assistant John Robic mistakenly included Marcus Lee, not Cauley-Stein, in the starting lineup.
That apparenly won't happen again. Calipari said Cauley-Stein, who started the second half, will start both halves going forward.
UK improved to 6-1. Eastern Michigan fell to 5-1.
Despite next to no offense from Randle and Young, Kentucky led 35-32 at halftime.
UK's two leading scorers (33.1 ppg) made only one of seven first-half shots. Young, who made only one of seven shots, hit a floater with 5:58 left. Randle picked up two fouls and exited with no points and one rebound at the 11:12 mark.
After trailing by four points early, Kentucky took its first lead on an Aaron Harrison three-pointer with 13:36 left. That was UK's only three-pointer in eight first-half attempts.
Officiating helped Kentucky lead. Eastern Michigan had two more baskets in the half, but Kentucky made eight more free throws in 12 more attempts. The referees called 18 fouls on Eastern Michigan in the first half, which helped mollify, if not please, UK fans.
Randle and Cauley-Stein helped UK take a 13-point lead early in the second half. Visibly animated, Randle scored his first basket (a put-back of his own miss) with 16:51 left. In the next five minutes, he and Cauley-Stein combined for 12 points.
Of his more productive second half, Randle said he "stopped thinking so much. Run the floor to get easier baskets."
Randle acknowledged how Eastern Michigan's aggressive trapping of each time he got the ball near the basket played on his mind.
"Trying to read the defense," he said of a first half that saw him take only one shot and go scoreless. He said he needed to "stop thinking so much and play."
Foul trouble helped slow Randle. He went to the bench with two fouls at the 14:15 mark.
"Lot of touchy stuff," he said. "I have to do a better job moving my feet and beating (the opponent) to the spot."
Randle sounded resigned to dealing with double-teams.
"If they're going to do that, they're going to have to live with other guys stepping up and having big days," he said.
Calipari spoke of techniques to make Kentucky players exert themselves. He spoke of "wall-sits" (crouching against a wall) and toting 50-pound bags.
"I hope we don't have to do them again," Randle said. "Those are painful."
Then again, watching Kentucky beat Eastern Michigan wasn't a big treat either. UK's 500th victory in Rupp Arena was anything but a Fortune 500.
Kentucky vs. Providence
When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Home games in capital lettersAll times p.m. and Eastern
Date Opponent Result
Nov. 8 UNC Asheville W, 89-57
Nov. 10 NORTHERN KENTUCKY W, 93-63
Nov. 12 a-Michigan State L, 78-74
Nov. 17 b-ROBERT MORRIS W, 87-49
Nov. 19 b-TEXAS-ARLINGTON W, 105-76
Nov. 25 b-CLEVELAND ST. W, 68-61
Nov. 27 b-EASTERN MICH. W, 81-63
Date Opponent TV Time
Dec. 1 c-Providence FS1 8:30
Dec. 6 d-Baylor ESPN 9
Dec. 10 BOISE STATE ESPN 9
Dec. 14 at North Carolina ESPN 5:15
Dec. 21 BELMONT ESPNU Noon
Dec. 28 LOUISVILLE CBS 4
Jan. 8 MISSISSIPPI STATE SEC 8
Jan. 11 at Vanderbilt CBS TBA
Jan. 14 at Arkansas ESPN 9
Jan. 18 TENNESSEE CBS Noon
Jan. 21 TEXAS A&M ESPN 9
Jan. 25 GEORGIA SEC 1:30
Jan. 28 at Louisiana State ESPN 9
Feb. 1 at Missouri CBS 1
Feb. 4 MISSISSIPPI ESPNU 7
Feb. 8 at Mississippi State SEC 1:30
Feb. 12 at Auburn SEC 8
Feb. 15 FLORIDA ESPN 9
Feb. 18 at Mississippi ESPN 7
Feb. 22 LOUISIANA STATE ESPN/2 4
Feb. 27 ARKANSAS ESPN/2 7
March 1 at South Carolina ESPN/2 6
March 4 ALABAMA ESPN 9
March 8 at Florida CBS Noon
Mar. 12-16 e-TBATBA
a-at United Center, Chicago; b-Keightley Classic; c-at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.; d-at Arlington, Texas; e-SEC Tournament at Georgia Dome in Atlanta