UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky’s talent trumps Thomas More’s experience in exhibition opener

Process, a trendy word for a team’s development over a season, was on display in Rupp Arena on Friday night.

Kentucky beat Thomas More 103-61 in an exhibition opener that might have had UK fans consulting a calendar.

If it was March 27, there was plenty to fret about. But it was Oct. 27. There is plenty of time to make the necessary improvements individually and collectively.

As if to corral any runaway enthusiasm, UK Coach John Calipari said, “We’re still not there yet.”

The target date for “there” is March, months into the future and literally a college career away for one-and-done players. So there’s plenty of time to make lots of improvement.

“We have a ways to go, we just do,” Calipari said. “You may look at it and say, well, we dunked some balls and we did some good things and we shot it OK and we made free throws. We’re not ready to play a 40-minute basketball game. We’re just not.”

As he has said with other inexperienced teams at this stage of the basketball year, Calipari pointed out that the process must be respected.

“You can’t skip steps with a team like this,” he said. “I’ve said it before. When you have all freshmen, you cannot skip steps. It’s one at a time.

“We may be ugly early. I just hope we’re not just awful early.”

The game against Thomas More breathed life into the eternal experience-or-talent debate. UK’s talent won in a landslide.

Thomas More starters made a combined 144 starts last season. UK started five freshmen, and had only 23 career starts (all by Wenyen Gabriel last year) on the roster.

Kentucky never trailed and rolled up a 58-14 advantage in points from the paint and 26-2 in points off the fast break.

Kevin Knox led all scorers with 27 points. PJ Washington added 15. Hamidou Diallo and Nick Richards added 12 each. Wenyen Gabriel chipped in 11.

Kentucky plays again Monday against Morehead State in the Kentucky Cares Classic. Proceeds from the game will be donated to help fund relief efforts in areas impacted by recent hurricanes and wild fires.

For those who cannot attend, donations can be made by texting KYCARES to 87872.

As for Friday night, at times the first half looked like a bunch of freshmen playing an NCAA Division III team. Of course, that’s exactly what it was. The teams combining for 31 fouls and 26 turnovers serving as evidence.

Kentucky led 53-30 at halftime.

A sign that this exhibition was for training purposes came early. Richards picked up two fouls at the 17:39 mark: He charged when making a low-post move, then got a technical foul for protesting the charging call.

Shortly after Richards picked up his third foul with 10:49 left in the first half, UK announced that the teams had agreed to allowing unlimited fouls. Richards finished the half with four fouls.

Thomas More, which started no one taller than 6-foot-6, did not grab a rebound until the 13:30 mark of the first half. Rebounds were scarce with Kentucky making five of its first six shots.

Knox led all first-half scorers with 14 points. All four of his baskets were dunks, a signature component of Calipari’s Kentucky’s drive-and-lob offenses.

Quade Green made two of three three-point shots. His teammates missed their six shots from beyond the arc.

Tellingly, when Thomas More closed within 23-17, Kentucky called timeout. Normality returned as Green threw a lob that Richards dunked.

Overall, dunks (12) or layups (11) accounted for almost two-thirds of Kentucky’s baskets (23 of 38).

Kentucky’s first three baskets of the second half were layups or dunks. The third extended the lead to 60-34 and prompted a Thomas More timeout with 16:47 left.

Brad Calipari’s entry into the game with 13:06 left came with the video screens marking the moment. Fans cheered.

The final cheer came with 48.1 seconds left. After UK reached 99 points with 3:20 left, the fans were still waiting for the 100th point inside the final minute.

It came when Richards rebounded a missed free throw and scored on a put-back.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

Next game

Morehead State at Kentucky

What: Exhibition game to benefit disaster relief

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Rupp Arena

TV: None

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