Heretofore struggling while winning (or showing its inexperience, if you prefer), Kentucky blasted Rider 92-63 Saturday in a performance befitting UK's next high-class destination: The Riviera Division of the Cancun Challenge.
Offense. Defense. The Cats put on a five-star performance in its last warm-up before going to the five-star Moon Palace resort for the Cancun Challenge semifinals Tuesday.
After giving up 33 three-point baskets in its previous two games, Kentucky nearly blanked a good-shooting Rider team (48.5-percent accuracy). The Broncs did not make a three-point shot until the second half and finished with an inconsequential four-of-17, which tied a season-low for a UK opponent (Morehead State also had four).
"They haven't had a sense of urgency," UK Coach John Calipari said of his players. "Well, we had it today."
No Cat seemed more urgent than All-America candidate Patrick Patterson. Previously a perfect gentleman, he didn't mind getting mussed against Rider. He achieved a double-double with more than four minutes left in the first half and went on to equal a career high of 18 rebounds while scoring 19 points.
"I love the fact Patrick just went nuts rebounding the ball," Calipari said. "That's what he needs to be for us. He should be able to go get 20 rebounds. Go get 25 rebounds. What's the problem?"
The problem was Calipari. Patterson set a goal of 20 rebounds. Then the UK coach took him out of the game with five minutes left.
"OK, Coach, I see (John) Wall's still in," Patterson said he thought. "OK, he's going to put me back in. ... I wanted it bad."
Patterson did not get in. His work was done after leading UK to a 43-38 rebounding edge and a whopping 56-20 advantage in points from the paint.
Wall led UK with 21 points and 11 assists, big numbers Rider Coach Tommy Dempsey attributed to his team's poor shooting (31 percent).
"The fact we didn't shoot well allowed John to get out in transition quite a bit," Dempsey said.
Ryan Thompson, a pre-season pick for Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year, led Rider with 16 points. He had to work for it, making only one of 10 shots while hitting 14 of 14 free throws.
UK dominated the first half as much as the 51-26 lead at intermission suggested.
Three-point defense, UK's bugaboo in the previous two games, was no problem. Rider missed all nine of its first-half attempts and made only 32.1 percent of its shots.
That was the polar opposite of the Sam Houston State game 36 hours earlier. In that one, the visitors had made 12 three-pointers (in 21 attempts) by halftime.
"I was really fearful of this game till I saw us defend early in the game," Calipari said. "Then I felt fine."
The second half finally brought Rider's first three-point basket. In fact, the Broncs made two barely two minutes into the second half.
Brandon Penn made the first Rider three-pointer with 19:26 left. Novar Gadson followed with another at the 17:51 mark. That prompted a UK timeout, perhaps to stop any possibility of a rush of treys.
The net effect wasn't much. UK led 61-36 with less than 16 minutes left in the second half.
Calipari cited an especially good morning shootaround as a sign that Kentucky was ready to become a more serious-minded team.
"That was the first time they came with a sense of urgency and focus," he said. "What I mean is they were more concerned with their teammates than themselves. This one flowed easy. Everybody listened. Everybody did what they're supposed to do."
Ditto for the game. Good shooting. Good defense (Rider had seven assists and 20 turnovers). Good bench play, especially from Daniel Orton (14 points) and Ramon Harris (two rebounds, two steals).
Noting tougher competition ahead (the Cats play Cleveland State on Tuesday, then either Stanford or Virginia on Wednesday, then North Carolina in two weeks), Calipari tried to tamp down reaction to this performance.
"We're making strides," he allowed before adding, "We're just not very good right now."
Even with all Calipari's salesmanship, that was a hard sell to make to Rider.
When asked about that comment, Dempsey said, "Well, sure they're good. I mean, what's he going to say? It's November. He doesn't want them to think they're any good. Saying they're good, that's not what the kids need to hear."
All times p.m.; home games in all caps
Date Opponent Result
Nov. 13 MOREHEAD STATE W, 75-59
Nov. 16 MIAMI (Ohio) W, 72-70
Nov. 19 a-SAM HOUSTON STATE W, 102-92
Nov. 21 a-RIDER W, 92-63
Date Opponent Time TV
Nov. 24 b-Cleveland State 4:30 CBS-CS
Nov. 25 b-Stanford/Virginia 7/9:30 CBS-CS
Nov. 30 c-UNC Asheville 7 FS South
Dec. 5 NORTH CAROLINA 12:30 CBS-27
Dec. 9 d-Connecticut 9:30 ESPN
Dec. 12 at Indiana noon CBS-27
Dec. 19 AUSTIN PEAY 4 TBA
Dec. 21 DREXEL 7 ESPNU
Dec. 23 LONG BEACH STATE 1 FS South
Dec. 29 HARTFORD 7 ESPN2
Jan. 2 LOUISVILLE 3:30 CBS-27
Jan. 9 GEORGIA 4 SEC Net
Jan. 12 at Florida 9 ESPN
Jan. 16 at Auburn 4 SEC Net
Jan. 23 ARKANSAS 4 SEC Net
Jan. 26 at South Carolina 9 ESPN
Jan. 30 VANDERBILT 4 ESPN
Feb. 2 MISSISSIPPI 7 ESPN
Feb. 6 at LSU 4 SEC Net
Feb. 9 ALABAMA 9 ESPNU
Feb. 13 TENNESSEE 9 ESPN
Feb. 16 at Mississippi State 9 ESPN
Feb. 20 at Vanderbilt 6 ESPN
Feb. 25 SOUTH CAROLINA 9 TBA
Feb. 27 at Tennessee noon CBS-27
Mar. 3 at Georgia 8 SEC Net
Mar. 7 FLORIDA noon CBS-27
Mar. 11-14 SEC Tournament, Nashville TBA
a-Cancun Challenge; b-Cancun Challenge at Cancun, Mexico; c-at Louisville; d-SEC/Big East Invitational at New York.
CBS-CS is the CBS College Sports Network; SEC Net games air on the SEC Network, which will be picked up by a local station (WKYT-27 in Lexington).