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Cats show signs of what could be with balanced 74-49 win over Puerto Rico

By LARRY VAUGHT

Remember that John Calipari said Kentucky’s six-game exhibition trip to the Bahamas was about far more than winning. Yet what Kentucky did Sunday in Nassau during a 74-49 win over Puerto Rican National Team Reserves certainly gave a glimpse of just how much the Wildcats could win this year with a roster loaded with talent, size and experience.

Aaron Harrison had a game-high 15 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had a team-high seven rebounds and 10 points to lead what likely will be a balanced UK attack all season. Alex Poythress had 10 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.

Freshman guard Devin Booker scored nine points, including the first 3-pointer of the game. Marcus Lee also scored nine points and pulled off six rebounds, with Dakari Johnson adding six rebounds and six points. Freshman point guard Tyler Ulis had just two points, but dished out a team-best five assists and had two UK’s 11 steals.

A 10-2 blitz to end the half that vaulted the Cats to a 38-31 lead and showed what could lie ahead for this team.

Aaron Harrison had a steal that led to an assist from Andrew Harrison to Devin Booker for a dunk. Then Andrew Harrison put a move on that led to a slam by Alex Poythress followed by a putback by Andrew Harrison. To cap off the half, center Dakari Johnson created a steal and then finished the play with a slam in transition.

“Calipari has a lot of different options. You may see him do a lot of things,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “They are still trying to figure out how to play and what they can be. Nobody knows how to work out a playing rotation with 10 really good players like they have. There is nobody in the country with more talent. It will be a challenge to find the right chemistry.”

He’s right. Calipari has never had this kind of depth — Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles are not playing yet as they recover from surgeries — and never had to figure out how to balance a playing rotation this deep.

But what fun it should be for him.

“They are a work in progress, but they could be a really good defensive team, too,” Bilas said.

That must be a scary thought for opponents because the Cats are loaded with offensive weapons, especially if Andrew Harrison runs the point as a sophomore the way Calipari thinks he will after learning last year what it takes to succeed at this level.

Bilas liked what he saw from Andrew and his brother, Aaron.

“They are lighter, quicker. There is no more body language issues,” Bilas said.

Freshmen Booker, Towns and r Ulis all had their moments. Calipari had to love that Ulis drew a charge early in the game — “That’s what he can do. He has great vision and understanding of the game. He knows the pace. You can see him playing a lot of minutes and being on the court with Aaron and Andrew Harrison at the same time. He is a big-time point guard,” Bilas said — or the way Towns put in a jump hook and followed that with a dunk — “He’s a big-time player who has every move,” Bilas said. “For a big guy, he’s really a good passer and he’s only going to get better.”

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7 comments

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  1. LindaS

    Wow, whoa, holy molly, woot woot….yeehaw….

  2. King Ghidora

    Wow. That’s the only word I can think of. They platooned teams and they didn’t even have two of their best players IMO. No team is going to match their depth. Everyone they play could be on oxygen halfway through the second half. But Cal likes to have his top 6 or 7 in game shape knowing that those are the guys who win games for you. The coaching dilemma is very real. Too many players on this team don’t deserve to sit out but they might have to do just just. I worry about it hurting recruiting down the road. It might already be affecting it.

    For now this team just looks fantastic. I saw some young guys playing stiff but this was their first game out of high school. By the time the SEC gets going this team could beat a lot of NBA games.

  3. larry clemons

    King, if we retain Players, with the likes of WCS, The Harrison’s, Alex P., etc….We don’t need to worry about recruiting 6, In and 5, Out to the next Draft…We recruit, 4 or 5 of the Best and 1, 2, or even 3 stay with existing soph., Jun., & Senior Veterans ! Sounds like the perfect Formula, sprinkle in a couple of Kentucky Boys and a unique style of Player, (WCS, Ulis) and You’ll always have a well oiled and prepared TEAM….I wrote about this before last Year and about How this Experiment of Elite Talent converging on one School, (Kentucky Wildcats) as you have even stated, ” Is Uncharted Waters for The Whole Country…” Last Year, showed us a glimpse of what this could, (IS) becoming. ” If its the first Time, You ever planted a unknown seed, You must nurture it’s growth to truly see what it can become.” And This, is why Coach Calipari stays with Kentucky, He’s still nurturing His Baby ….OH ! What a Game…Kentucky Fans are So Lucky to Watch This Growth First Hand…” As It Should Be! “

  4. TheProfessor

    Very impressive today. Last year’s team struggled defensively, but today, 49 points in almost 70 possessions. That is impressive against the weakest opponents, and as noted above, by the mid point of the second half, PR was out of gas. I liked the pressing, and I was more impressed by Ulis than I ever imagined possible. The kid is a basketball player more than a freak athlete that plays basketball. He makes everyone else on the floor better.

    Poythress played with high energy, and the front court depth and talent is as advertised. The guard play was deeper and stronger than I had even hoped it would be.

    Buckle the seat belts, we are about to be treated to a great ride, and it started today.

  5. King Ghidora

    I guess the thing that impressed me the most was the team spirit. Players seemed to want to get their highlights in but who can blame them? They need to stand out just to get PT on this team. Still no one acted like a gun. Everyone played defense and they looked very good despite being a little disorganized. I saw people working hard for loose balls and denying players from scoring, shooting or even bringing the ball down the floor. They definitely had the PR team flustered. Several times I saw them make a “get the heck out of my face” type move grabbing guys from behind and shoving them back. When this team actually practices some defense they will be stifling. And the way Cal brought in waves of players is actually very effective IMO. You get players used to playing together quicker that way IMO.

    This team is really something special. I saw some rushed shots and people trying too hard to make an impression but that only affected their shooting some of the time. Those guys are going to learn to make those shots after they calm down just a little. Clearly they have the talent. They have a level of talent I’ve never seen before at UK and I’ve been watching the Cats for a very long time. Who knows if they have a Davis or a Cousins or an Issel on this team but they might. I think Towns is probably the most likely to be on that level. But we haven’t even seen Lyles yet and he’s said to be very good. And who knows. It could turn out to be Ulis. Spud Webb was a great player for many years. But Towns gets my early, early vote for the HOF. Whatever the case this team is absolutely loaded with talent.

  6. Anonymous

    Yes lots of talent, and great effort on the court yesterday, but still a long way to go boys and girls.. Let’s not crown them national champs just yet. That team they played yesterday couldn’t beat Transy. Ulis is for real, and showed he can be a real help to this team. UK did not shoot well from 3 point range, but with all the length and talent, they may not have to. I will continue to watch and gloat, but be mindful, they still have it to do.

    1. Larry T Clemons

      You complain about LV having Basketball stories, but here you are ! Come on Mike/Barry

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