With a team composed of freshmen and inexperienced “veterans,” Kentucky figured to be rough around the edges in the Blue-White Game on Friday. In that sense, this first dress rehearsal did not surprise.
Here are five observations:
▪ Earlier this preseason, Coach John Calipari said that perimeter shooting would not be UK’s “forte” this season. It was not in this Blue-White Game, which the Blue team won 88-67 in front of an announced crowd of 15,530.
The game gave future opponents reason to do what Calipari said he expects: Defenses sagging into the lane in order to invite the Cats to shoot from the outside.
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Calipari seemed to try to convince future opponents not to sag into the lane on defense.
“You may say, ‘What if a team just packs it in?’” the UK coach said. “Basically, they’ve surrendered. Their coach said, ‘We can’t play this team, so just go in the lane and stand there.’”
But that’s exactly what UK players said they expect. PJ Washington suggested many opponents would be foolish not to sag on defense.
“That’s what teams are supposed to do against us,” he said. “They see the length and they see the versatility, and they’re supposed to just sit in the lane against us.”
Kevin Knox, who led all scorers with 22 points, said he expected UK to face sagging defenses in the first 10 games.
“Because they know we all can drive,” he said, “and it’s kind of hard to stop us when we’re driving the basketball.”
Calipari and the players voiced confidence that Kentucky can shoot well enough to keep opposing defenses reasonably honest.
“We’re not Steph Curry,” Calipari said, “but I’ve had way worse shooting teams than this, and we’ve done OK.”
Said Knox: “People said we have no shooters, but that’s completely false. People are basing that off high school and basing that off old stats. But people don’t know we’re really working on that.”
UK players did no sharp shooting facing the basket. Instead, the current Cats depended on a familiar strategy for scoring: heavy on drives to the basket, lobs and points off transition.
Thirteen of 39 first-half baskets came from shots other than drives, lobs or dunks. Knox and Quade Green accounted for seven of those baskets.
Overall, 20 of the 59 baskets were produced by face-the-basket shots. That included three-pointers by walk-ons Jonny David and Dillon Pulliam in the final 10 seconds.
▪ At least four UK players suffered from muscle cramps during the game. Green had to be helped off the floor at one point, plus Hamidou Diallo, PJ Washington and Nick Richards.
“What’s that tell you? …,” Calipari said. “Here is what we have. We have a team full of guys that can play 20 minutes. That’s what we have. So hopefully I have 10 guys that can play because there’s no one that can play more than 20 minutes right now.”
To help improve the stamina, Calipari said he would put the players through two practices on Saturday.
But Calipari was going to use a carrot as well as a stick, Knox said.
“He pushed back (the first) practice to noon tomorrow to give us some recovery time,” the player said. “We’ll definitely take advantage of that. But we’ve got a lot of conditioning to do.”
▪ Knox, who had four fouls inside the first 10 minutes, said Kentucky does not expect to get the benefit of the doubt from referees on the road this season.
“I hear that every year …,” he said. “Every time we’re on the road or something like that, we get no foul calls. They just say you’ve got to play through it, which is usual for a school like us. One of the powerhouse schools. We don’t get a lot of foul calls. That’s just how we are.
“Last year, Bam (Adebayo) got hacked a lot. He was able to play through it. A lot of scratches and bruises and stuff like that. But that’s SEC basketball, and we’ve got to love it.”
When asked who had told him about Kentucky not getting calls on the road, Knox said former players.
“Cal even said that sometimes we don’t get a lot of calls on the road,” he said. “But we’ve got to be able to play through it.”
As might be expected in a mid-October scrimmage by a team made up largely of freshmen, there were many fouls. The teams combined for 22 fouls in the first half. Knox had four fouls inside the first eight minutes.
Three players left the floor at halftime with three fouls each: Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Washington.
▪ Yet again, and surely not for the last time, Calipari pointed out that Kentucky is a young team. It showed its age — or lack thereof — in the Blue-White Game.
“This was a high school team seven months ago,” Calipari said.
The players “reverted” to old habits when they got tired, he said. Calipari mentioned a crosscourt hook pass from the corner by Diallo as an example of reverting.
▪ Calipari cautioned against a rush to judgment. It was the Blue-White Game. One ultra-early step in what UK hopes is a journey that ends in the Final Four.
With reporters continuing to ask questions in the postgame news conference, Calipari said, “Guys, this was like a scrimmage. You’ve got this many questions on a scrimmage? Oh, my gosh.”
Thomas More at Kentucky
Where: Rupp Arena
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 27
TV: SEC Network