By LARRY VAUGHT
How impressive was Kentucky in Tuesday’s 93-57 exhibition win over the Puerto Rican Reserves in Nassau?
“I am not sure (ESPN) SportsCenter has enough time for all these highlights,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas during the game. “Sometimes more than one guy is going after it when you throw it up there and they all know how to finish. This Kentucky team is awfully good. The Kentucky Wildcats are legit.”
Is it ever.
Kentucky coach John Calipari again watched most of the game from the top row of the bleachers as he let assistant John Robic coach just like he did assistant Kenny Payne on Monday. But Calipari did join the ESPN crew early in the second half to offer his analysis on his team.
“I am pleased because they are competing against good talent and two, they are sharing the ball. They are really creating good opportunities,” Calipari said on ESPN. “We worked for 10 days on these things but we are pretty organized because both Andrew (Harrison) and Tyler (Ulis) are doing a good job of running this team.”
Once again, Kentucky had no single star. Alex Poythress continued his impressive overall play and led the team with 15 points (7-for-9 shooting) and 10 rebounds and had Calipari raving about him during his time with ESPN. Marcus Lee added 14 points (6-for-7) and seven rebounds while Aaron Harrison had 12 points and Karl Anthony-Towns had 10 points and six rebounds. But as in the previous two wins, everybody on the roster contributed — walk-on Tod Lanter ever buried a 3-pointer late in the game and Derek Willis went 4-for-4 from the field to add nine points.
Freshman point guard Tyler Ulis continued to be a 5-9 dynamo making steals, creating havoc and running the offense like Calipari and Robic wanted. He had seven points and four assists.
“Andrew Harrison is the starting point guard and has really improved. Tyler Ulis is going to bring a lot of things to this team, but Andrew Harrison is the starting point guard. But that doesn’t mean Tyler Ulis won’t have a huge role for this team,” Bilas said.
“I am just excited. I am just ready to get out here and show what we can do. We want to show everybody we can play as a team no matter how many great players we have,” Ulis said.
Kentucky does have great players. Calipari has nine McDonald’s All-Americans on his roster. No team has ever had that number even though both UK and Duke will this year. By comparison, there are seven McDonald’s All-Americans in the entire Big 12 Conference, six in the Big Ten.
There are a lot of college teams that will have a hard time staying with this team. There will be a few hang with Kentucky and maybe even beat them, but that’s not a very long list,” Bilas said.
Not if Kentucky can continue to overpower teams with size and depth the way it has in three exhibition games here. Granted, UK has not played a team like Florida, Kansas or Arizona — a team some have ranked ahead of UK in preseason polls — but the Cats have played games against three older, experienced teams with professional players and have yet to give up 60 points and have won by 25, 23 and 36 points.
Bilas and Calipari both raved about the play of Poythress, who is averaging 13.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in the Bahamas.
“Alex referred to as energy guy but it is hard to bring energy all the time and give maximum effort, but that is what he has been doing. If that is an indication of the type of season he is going to have, he’s going to have a really good year,” Bilas said. “He can bring things other can’t. His strength is not as shooter and getting his own shot, but he can do things many other guys cannot do.
“Alex may be a role player but he has been a star in his role. He has been best player for Kentucky here. He is running the floor, hitting the glass, he’s enthusiastic. He is not the best shooter or highest draft pick, but he has been the best player because of how hard he has played. It is contagious. If you see teammates around you sacrifice, you are more willing to sacrifice. If you see others showing physical and mental toughness like Alex Poythress, you are more likely to join in.”
Count Robic, who had Poythress take a potential game-winning 3-pointer in last year’s loss at South Carolina after Calipari had been ejected, as an even bigger Poythress backer now.
“I have never seen him playing better in the three years we have had him. Hopefully this will carry over. Now he can go. He’s in great shape,” Robic said.