UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky basketball struggles before defeating Boston U. 89-65

Willie Cauley-Stein shoots a layup early in the Kentucky-Boston U. game on Friday, Nov. 21., 2014.
Willie Cauley-Stein shoots a layup early in the Kentucky-Boston U. game on Friday, Nov. 21., 2014. Lexington Herald-Leader

When Boston University's Cedric Hankerson hit a three-pointer early in the second half, Kentucky's Andrew Harrison hung his head.

An old habit resurfaced, which helped show that Kentucky wasn't in (a rout of) Kansas anymore. No team can be that team all the time, John Calipari said after UK beat Boston University 89-65 Friday night.

"We all expect this team to be world-beaters every night out," the UK coach said. "Let me say this, folks. They're not going to be. There are going to be nights when I have to drag them across the finish line.

"They're normal 19-, 18-, 20-year-old kids. Something happened in class today, I don't know."

Kentucky dialed down significantly from the steam-roller that flattened No. 5 Kansas three nights earlier but was still pretty good. UK made 57.6 percent of its shots, held Boston U. to 38.5 percent shooting and never trailed. Boston effectively used a strategy that Calipari suggests many opponents will copy: spread the floor on offense, pack a zone in the lane on defense and essentially hope quickness can kill the towering Cats.

"I used the Buffalo game as motivation and confidence," Boston Coach Joe Jones said of the relatively small team that actually led mighty Kentucky at halftime last week. ". . . If you're used to playing inside-out, you're not going to have that kind of success. You're going to have to play smaller, I feel like."

Jones also clung to the hope Kentucky might still be floating on the wings of the 32-point blowout of Kansas. "Yes, I was hoping," he said.

Calipari was dreading.

"I expected a letdown," the UK coach said. "I was just hoping it wasn't too bad. That was a high-energy game we were coming off."

Kentucky never trailed in the first half, but never took charge, either.

Six three-point baskets kept Boston within 40-35 at the break and showed that Kentucky's stated desire to improve its three-point defense remained unfulfilled.

In the first half, the Terriers made six of 16 three-point shots, which included 0-for-3 from beyond the arc by the team's top shooter, John Papale.

Aside from the three-point defense, UK stifled Boston in the first half. The Terriers' 11 turnovers helped fuel 10 fast-break points by Kentucky.

The Cats led by as much as 10 points three times in the first half.

Calipari lamented how Boston took the initiative much of the half. The Terriers acted while UK reacted.

Mimicking his players' complaints, Calipari said, "He pushed me."

To which the UK coach replied, "'What?! Push back.'

"We just didn't fight for position."

Freshman Devin Booker sparked a second-half charge that allowed Kentucky to avoid a stunning loss so soon after a stunning victory. He scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half.

Booker also had five of his seven assists after intermission. Three times he lobbed passes over Boston U.'s game-long zone defense for dunks. The first two went to Trey Lyles. The third to Dominique Hawkins, who started in place of Alex Poythress (ill, and listed as day-to-day).

Booker, who had career highs in points and assists, hit three three-pointers in less than five minutes to put UK comfortably ahead. He also had a soft pull-up jumper in that time.

"I finally saw a shot go in," said Booker, who had made only five of 20 shots (one of 11 from three-point range), in UK's first three games. " . . . I had a talk with Coach (Calipari), and with my dad. They just said, 'Keep shooting. It's going to fall.' And I came out today and it did."

As Calipari suggested, it was easy to forget that Booker and three other UK players are just freshmen playing their first month of college basketball.

Booker noted the good timing of his second-half play: Coming against a smaller team determined to swarm big men around the basket.

"That's where my role comes in," Booker said. "Me and Aaron (Harrison) as shooters."

Aaron Harrison led UK with 19 points. Willie Cauley-Stein added 12 and Dakari Johnson 11.

Hankerson led Boston with 24 points, the most scored against UK this season. Nate Dieudonne, the 2012 Kentucky Mr. Basketball, added 10.

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