NASSAU, Bahamas — In six games against older and more seasoned players, Kentucky trailed in second halves for only 66 seconds. And then, on each of these two occasions, by only one point.
Unfortunately for those addicted to bottom-line, win-or-lose considerations, about 2.5 of those seconds came at the end of Sunday's windup to UK's exhausting nine-day, six-game exhibition series in the Bahamas. Jack Michael Martinez's fadeaway from the middle of the lane with 2.5 seconds left gave the Dominican Republic National Team a 63-62 victory.
It also gave Kentucky another lesson, albeit the only one attached to defeat on a foreign trip designed as a sun-splashed teaching tool/palm-lined head start on the college competition.
"Well, it was another learning experience, and that's what we're trying to do down here ... ," UK Coach John Calipari said. "We kind of died. We didn't have it physically."
Kentucky led most of the game, and by a 62-54 score when Aaron Harrison hit a three-pointer with 4:30 left. The Cats didn't score again.
"The lesson I told them that you walk away from (is) there's no birthright to be on that court," Calipari said. "You've got to play with energy and you've got to compete. If you don't, you're not playing. Either your group won't play as much or you won't play as much. It's just how it is."
Calipari seemed to suggest that the five-player platoon system that generated much buzz here had also fostered the anticipation of guaranteed playing time.
"There's no like, 'Well, today I'm not going to play and I'm still getting 20 minutes,'" he said. "No. You may get five minutes. And then you've got to bring it."
Calling it "first game where we had guys with no competitive spirit," Calipari noted how the trip — which basically was playing two Maui Invitationals sandwiched around two off days — made for a "tough run."
Alex Poythress, UK's leading scorer here, played only four and a half minutes in a second half that saw the Dominicans erase a 13-point Kentucky lead in the final eight minutes. In the final 8:45, UK scored once: That Aaron Harrison three-pointer.
"He was exhausted," Calipari said of Poythress. The UK coach said Poythress opted out of the game in favor of presumably fresher alternatives. "Which was fine," Calipari said.
After Kentucky beat his team 83-71 on Friday, Dominican Coach Orlando Antigua, the former UK assistant, spoke about how the Cats' depth made any second-half deficit hard to overcome. "You're swimming upstream," he said.
The current seemed strong mid-way through the second half Sunday when Kentucky led by double digits and players like Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis (twice) secured loose balls with diving efforts.
Calipari acknowledged the dives, but added, "When you're playing units, it only takes one or two guys not to be competitive."
The UK coach also cited three one-handed rebounds that he said led to either UK fouls or Dominican baskets. A more sizable lead, at least potentially, became more manageable.
"There's stuff that won't happen during the year," Calipari said.
Kentucky seemed confused. The components of possession-by-possession execution are not in place: out-of-bounds plays from the sideline and baseline, strategies as the shot clock ticks down to a few seconds.
"So none of that bothered me," Calipari said.
Calipari could be seen waving instructions from his perch at the top the bleachers to assistant coaches at the bench across the court. Finally, Calipari flicked a hand dismissively as if to say he and the team were incommunicado.
"What I wanted them to do was Karl on offense, Dakari (Johnson) on defense," he said. "They put them both in together. Well, they can't guard. ..."
By the moment of decision, Marcus Lee had replaced Johnson.
After a Dominican timeout with 17.2 seconds left, Martinez used a screen to get separation from Towns. Instead of going to the congested basket area, Martinez faded away the foul line and flipped in the shot.
"Money," he said afterward to indicate the confidence he had despite making only two of nine previous shots.
Martinez, who made his debut with the Dominican National Team in 2001, immediately moved where Calipari could see him and put a hand to his throat."It's over," he said of the gesture. He smiled broadly. "All in fun," he said.
Calipari seemed more weary than worried, more eager to go home than irritated.
"In a way this is probably the best thing," he said.