As if to remind Kentucky fans what they missed on Wednesday, freshmen Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker made impossible-to-ignore contributions to an 84-70 victory over North Carolina on Saturday.
Booker, who made only one of 13 shots against Texas and Eastern Kentucky, hit all three of his shots from beyond the arc. His 15 points tied Willie Cauley-Stein for team high.
Ulis got credit for a career-high eight assists while continuing to be a defensive pest.
Numbers aside, UK Coach John Calipari noted an intangible the two freshmen provided.
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"See, the one thing that Tyler and Devin bring to the table is an energy level," he said. "They both do. It's not just Tyler. Devin does, too."
Ulis and Booker sat out a victory over Columbia on Wednesday. Each was conspicuous by his absence.
With UK making only two of 17 three-point shots and Columbia largely dictating the pace, the Cats seemed to miss Booker and Ulis, respectively.
Neither described his injury as anything serious. Ulis said a leg "just started hurting." Booker said he sustained a bruise from a knee-to-knee collision.
Thanks, UK fans
A noon start meant a pre-dawn wake-up call and bleary-eyed pre-game meal and shoot-around workout. UK players credited the fans in Rupp Arena with an assist.
"Yeah, shout out to our fans because it was rough getting out of bed at seven this morning ... ," Cauley-Stein said. "Even after the pre-game meal, you're thinking, 'Dang, I'm really tired right now. I don't know how I'm going to make it through this game.'
"You get out there and right when you step on the floor, you weren't even tired (anymore). You could feel the energy from the crowd."
UK announced the attendance as 24,406, which would be the eighth-largest crowd for a UK home game in Rupp Arena history. But it wasn't the size of the crowd that mattered. It was the volume.
"We were talking about it before the game," Booker said. "We need to get the fans more involved. There are a lot of fans here. But get them all loud."
Cauley-Stein acknowledged Alex Poythress each time he went to the bench. That will continue.
The gesture was meant to say "thinking about him," Cauley-Stein said. "We're here with you. We're not going to leave you out of nothing. I'm going to do that every time I come out."
Remaining a part of the team will be important in Poythress's recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Cauley-Stein said.
"The biggest thing I'll be telling him is you can't get hung up that you're out," Cauley-Stein said. "You've got to find some other way to be with the team. That's another way to keep your name out there so you don't turn into a ghost."
UK's next game will take Ulis home to Chicago. The Cats play UCLA in the United Center on Saturday.
When asked how many tickets he could use, Ulis said, "I could use, probably, 30-plus tickets." The allotment for UK players is four.
"It means something going back home to play," Ulis said. "All my friends are going to be in the stands."
Factoid or fiction?
Here's a factoid to ponder: So far this season, Kentucky has inflicted the most lopsided losses for five coaches at their current schools (Grand Canyon, Kansas, Montana State, UT-Arlington and Providence).
The six other victories (Buffalo, Boston, Texas, Eastern Kentucky, Columbia and North Carolina) have come by an average margin of 18.7 points.
Only three teams since the Southeastern Conference began compiling margin-of-victory statistics in 1968-69 have averaged a larger margin of victory in a season: Kentucky in 1995-96 (22.1 ppg) and 1996-97 (20.3 ppg) and Auburn in 1998-99 (19.6 ppg).
■ UK won by double-digits for the 11th straight time to open the season. That's only happened once before in program history: to start the 1946-47 season.
■ UK improved its series record against UNC to 14-23. The Tar Heels have beaten Kentucky more times than seven SEC programs: Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Missouri.
■ Marcus Paige's 14 points moved his career total to 1,008. He became the 71st North Carolina player to reach 1,000 points in his career.
■ UK does not play another home game for almost a month (Jan. 6 against Mississippi).