Kentucky never trailed in a wire-to-wire 91-68 exhibition victory over a team from Argentina, San Lorenzo de Almagra.
But that seemingly seamless victory masked one of the oddest Kentucky games in decades.
The lights went out late in the first half. With the floor only dimly lit (think a smoky bar at closing time), the teams left the floor early with the promise of playing a 22-minute second half.
That surely would have been a record for longest half in basketball history.
“It was a little awkward,” said assistant coach Tony Barbee, who directed the team as head coach John Calipari watched from eight rows off the court. “More for the players than the coaches. Just the fact we had a good flow going.”
Barbee noted how the UK players balked when they learned about talk of calling the game.
“It tells you a lot about this team,” Barbee said. “. . . Our guys were like, ‘let’s play. We’re going to play. We want to finish.’”
How should the UK players’ insistence on playing be interpreted?
“That they love to play,” Barbee said. “They love to compete. And this group, for the four years I’ve been here, the four-plus years, I haven’t seen a more competitive group.”
It was decided to play a regulation 20-minute second half, which began in a twilight.
“We were going to play in the dark,” Quade Greenn said. “Everybody was going to have to turn their flashlights on. We were going to play out there.”
Fortunately, the lights came back on full strength four minutes into the second half.
“It didn’t affect us too much,” said freshman Tyler Herro, who led UK with 22 points. “But you could definitely tell the difference.”
No matter the brightness of the lights, UK’s control of the basketball never dimmed.
Kentucky never trailed in improving to 2-0 on this exhibition tour. That meant that the Cats trailed for only 55 seconds in the first two games.
Green, who made only one shot on Wednesday, did not miss on Thursday. He made all four of his shots, including a three-pointer. He finished with 10 points.
But the real hero may have been the Cats’ perseverance and ability to adjust under unusual circumstances.
One of the stranger UK games began with good shooting. Kentucky made its first five shots to take an immediate lead.
Green, who suffered through a one-for-11 shooting game on Wednesday, contributed two baskets to the fast breakout. The first seemed to be a called play from the top of the key.
Kentucky kept shooting well. Herro, who thrilled fans with fundamental basketball plays on Wednesday, got them excited again. This time he did it with shooting. His made five of his first six shots, including three for three from three-point range.
The last of those shots put Kentucky ahead 45-27 with 2:58 left.
A few seconds later, the lights went out. After about 10 seconds in pitch darkness, enough lights returned to give the Imperial Ballroom a smoky feel.
It was decided to have the teams go the locker room so the issue with the lights could be addressed.
Calipari came down from his seat eight rows from the floor and told the crowd that the game could continue under unusual circumstances.
A person on both sidelines would be a de facto scoreboard operator. This person would flip cards to adjust the score. The public address announcer would call out the time: “10 seconds left on the shot clock.”
“We’ll play as long as it looks OK,” Calipari told the crowd. “You’ll be the only ones to see the game.”
The fans cheered.
“Hopefully, the other team will accept this is how we’ll have to finish game.”
San Lorenzo de Almagra apparently agreed because the game resumed after the premature halftime break.
With 16:01 left, the lights returned to full power. The scoreboards were lit up. And it became easier to see that Kentucky was the superior team.
As if to perfectly punctuate the evening, the lights went out during post-game interviews as Green spoke of the experience. Fire alarms sounded. This raised his suspicions.
“Is it raining or just going out?” Green said in expressing the search for an explanation. “They’re up to something. I don’t know what they’re up to. There’s something there. They keep turning the lights out.”