PORTLAND, Ore. — John Calipari's warnings of sterner tests on Kentucky's four-game western swing failed to materialize Friday night. The freshman-oriented Cats blitzed outmanned Portland 79-48.
Kentucky's defense turned this game into what it seemed it might be when the schedule was announced: a tune-up for more serious work at next week's EA Sports Maui Invitational.
Portland came into the game unbeaten and averaging 81.3 points. Looking frazzled from the beginning, the Pilots did not reach the 40-point mark until freshman Tim Douglas hit a heavily contested driving layup with 4:49 left.
For only the 10th time in Eric Reveno's five seasons as coach, Portland failed to score at least 50 points in a game.
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"Their ability to recover was tremendous," Reveno said of the UK defense that limited his good-shooting team to 30.5-percent accuracy. "Fear is not the right word. You rush because you know they're coming fast."
While UK played its customary man-to-man defense in handling Portland, Calipari suggested afterward that the Cats might try some type of hybrid zone against the better competition in Maui.
"Crazy, funky zone," the UK coach said. "A combination of a couple different zones."
Darius Miller, who filled up a busy stat line with five steals, four blocks, four assists, five rebounds and 15 points, struggled to describe this zone.
"It's really kind of hard to explain," he said. "It's something Coach made up. It's different than anything I've ever seen."
The Cats played so little zone in Calipari's first season at Kentucky that Miller strained to recall the particulars.
"Maybe 1-3-1 in two games," he said.
But with a relatively undersized team that needs to avoid foul trouble, Calipari sounded willing to resort to some sort of zone to win.
"The good thing is when our team is confused, no way the other team can figure out what you're doing," the UK coach said.
Meanwhile, Kentucky made Portland (3-1) retreat into a zone eight minutes into the game. That UK made eight of 18 three-point shots showed how the Portland zone failed to make a significant difference.
Kentucky (2-0) was led by freshman Brandon Knight, who scored 21 points. Doron Lamb added 13.
Josh Harrellson grabbed 12 rebounds, helping UK to a 37-30 advantage on the boards.
Facing an opponent that had not trailed in its first three games, Kentucky changed that emphatically. The Cats scored the game's first 15 points and except for a 30-second span led by a double-digit margin for the final 14:54 of the first half.
"For us to get open shots — and get the shots we wanted — and not convert really hurt us," Reveno said of many shots missed at close range. "How many layups did we miss in the first half?"
Kentucky excelled at both ends even though — as Calipari two days earlier suggested might happen — Terrence Jones did not excel in his homecoming. Jones made his first shot, an awkward banker in the lane. That was his only basket of the first half.
Jones did block a driving shot by the Portland point guard and feed an outlet pass that netted Lamb a fast-break layup. But mostly, he struggled.
"You played OK," Calipari said he told Jones afterward. "But you played better than any guy I ever brought home."
Kentucky, which led by as much as 18 in the first half and by a 38-24 margin at intermission, made Portland struggle everywhere.
The Pilots had made 53.5 percent of their shots (50.9 percent from three-point range) in winning the Athletes In Action Classic to start the season. Against Kentucky, Portland missed its first 12 shots and didn't score until freshman Riley Barker dunked with 12:09 left in the first half.
Jared Stohl, who led the nation in three-point accuracy last season, missed his first four attempts. That was part of the 5-for-22 shooting by Portland to start the game.
Hounded by Knight, then DeAndre Liggins, then Lamb, Stohl didn't score until taking an inbounds pass and swishing a three-pointer almost 17 minutes into the game. That marked his only basket of a 1-for-6 shooting half.
He made only one of seven three-point attempts in the game and finished with nine points.
Portland's three players averaging 10 or more points coming into the game (Luke Sikma, Tanner Riley and Stohl) did not score in the game's first 16 minutes. The trio made four of 21 shots in the game and totaled 13 points.
Kentucky opened the second half on a promising note. Intent on getting Jones the ball in the post, on the third attempt the freshman banked in an unlikely shot as the shot block buzzed while he was closely guarded by Sikma.
The opening minutes after intermission were an adventure for Jones.
His put-back slam brought a roar from a largely partisan Kentucky crowd in Portland's town. Or as one fan's sign noted, "Big Blue Nation: Coast to Coast."
A moment later, Jones seemed to be headed for a fast-break dunk. But a block from behind by Kramer Knutson left Jones sprawled against the basket support and wincing. Jones said he hurt an ankle, but he played on as did Kentucky.
Jones scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half.
On to Hawaii
UK planned to fly from Portland to Maui, Hawaii, Friday night after the game.
UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy said Calipari wanted to go as soon as possible to lessen the adjustment for the players' body clocks. There is two hours difference in time between the West Coast and Hawaii.
So Kentucky will be on Maui two full days (Saturday and Sunday) before beginning play Monday in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. UK plans to return to Lexington on Thanksgiving Day. The Cats have scheduled a return flight at 11 a.m. Hawaiian time.