Better start? More toughness? Stingier defense?
How about a performance that would have given NBA All-Stars a run for their money?
John Calipari asked for all three after his team’s first exhibition game against Transylvania. What he got Monday night in the final tune-up before the regular season was a performance that may never be matched again at Kentucky.
The Wildcats not only answered the call of their head coach, they picked up the telephone, threw it against the wall and smashed it with a baseball bat. Playing like they had lost by 20 to Transy, UK beat Morehouse into submission Monday night, walloping the Maroon Tigers 125-40 in front of 20,194 fans at Rupp Arena.
“We were better,” Coach Cal said so nonchalantly you would have thought he was joking. “That’s what I was looking for.”
The 85-point win was the largest margin of victory in an exhibition game, shattering the previous record of 71 points in a 119-48 smacking of China in 1982.
“We weren’t too happy with the last exhibition game,” said sophomore Jarrod Polson, who played what would have been a career-high 15 minutes had it been a regular-season game. “Obviously we won, but we know we could have played a lot better, so we looked at some film and really had some good practices until this game. … We came in with a mindset that we need to bring the energy.”
Whether it was a will to improve on last week’s outing, the extra pads and threat of the treadmill in practice, or a challenge from their head coach to get tougher, Kentucky certainly brought the energy in this one.
“Having physical practice every day, when you get in the game it’s a lot easier,” said freshman Kyle Wiltjer, who scored a game-high 26 points off the bench. “The more you do something in practice the easier it gets.”
Seven Wildcats reached double figures, and everyone but one Wildcat recorded a point (walk-on Sam Malone received one of the loudest cheers of the game when he banked a shot off the glass late in the game). Terrence Jones (22 points) and Anthony Davis (21) pitched in with monstrous efforts, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11 points, five rebounds, four assists), Eloy Vargas (12 strong rebounds) and Marquis Teague (12 points, seven assists) all had big games.
“We played really well, and that’s why the score was what it was,” Calipari said. “Morehouse lost to Georgia by 24. I’m telling you, they were excited. They were screaming in this hallway. They were jacked up on the court, (but) we hit them in the mouth to start the game.”
The final score wasn’t even the most astonishing part. UK led by a count of 74-13 at halftime (don’t adjust your computer screen, that’s no typo).
Believe it or not, UK’s 74 first-half points weren’t a record. The 1996 national championship team splashed 86 of them on the Tigers of LSU in Baton Rouge, La. (although the 61-point first-half lead easily surpassed the regular-season first-half record of 44 points, also set in that LSU game).
But, even against a Division II team, one would be hard pressed to find a more impressive performance than what the fans were treated to Monday night. All things considered – the lackluster start against Division III Transy, the time of the year (it’s Nov. 7!) and the amount of freshmen on this team – this confirmed the swagger and wow factor that everyone talked about in the offseason.
“I told them I’m not even looking at the score (when I watch the tape),” Calipari said. “I want to see them staying in the stance. I want to see them physical, going after rebounds. I want to see the rebound percentages offensively and defensively, making sure we were attacking.”
He’ll likely see all of the above. Even so, Calipari tried to look at this one through a coach’s eye following the game (what do you expect? He’s a coach trying to manage the egos of 18- and 19-year-olds).
“There will be some things that I don’t like,” said Calipari, who noted that this group may be a pretty good zone team after what he saw Monday night.
In a game of hard-to-believe anomalies, there were plenty of glowing absurdities that would make even the king of pessimists smile.
- UK posted runs of 29-0 and 16-0, among others
- The Cats led by more points (61) after the first half than Morehouse scored all of last game in a 74-50 loss to UK’s SEC brethren, Georgia
- Kentucky matched the Bulldogs’ total output against Morehouse in the first half
- The Cats nailed 48 of their 66 shots (72.7 percent) and were at 80 percent midway through the second half
- They reached the 100-point mark with 11:29 left in the game
- UK had a 30-point lead seven minutes into the game
- Coach Cal’s team had more points in the paint (66), points off turnovers (49) and bench points (48) than Morehouse had total points (40)
- Kentucky didn’t allow a single fast-break point
- And oh, the Cats forced 26 turnovers, thanks to 17 steals, and held Morehouse to 22.7 percent shooting
Coach Cal had more.
“If I’m not mistaken, in the first half I think my starters were 24 for 24,” Calipari said. “I’ve never heard of that. I also want to tell you we had 31 assists, which I was happy about. The game got crazy.”
It got out of hand quickly.
Kentucky stormed to a 34-4 lead and actually led 60-6 when Jones rained in a rainbow 3-pointer. In between there, Teague pulled off the highlight of the game (and surely a SportsCenter Top 10 play) when he threw a no-look pass off the glass for Jones to slam it home.
Davis also provided a highlight-reel play when, at 6-foot-10, he picked off a pass at midcourt, raced the length of the floor and somehow banked in a no-look layup as he was intentionally being tackled to the floor.
“He played with some aggressiveness,” Calipari said. “He still had some balls knocked from him and didn’t come up with a few rebounds, but did you like our zone offense with him in there? Just throw it at the rim, make them play the basket, which means the middle is open, the wings are open.”
Even with an unbelievable lead, the Kentucky contingent was as rabid as ever, booing the officials on a questionable call with UK leading by nearly 60 points late in the first half.
“That just shows how crazy the fans are,” Polson said.
The story coming into the game was who would sit in favor of Kidd-Gilchrist’s starting debut. It ended up being Doron Lamb, who finished with 12 points, but it was nothing more than a trivial storyline in a good, old-fashioned whipping.
“I may do what I did a year ago, game to game, where it was DeAndre (Liggins) or Doron, depending on whether I needed a defender or a scorer,” Coach Cal said. “It’s a good problem to have.”