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By LARRY VAUGHT
Just in case the nation’s top sophomore was debating whether he was ready to verbally commit to Kentucky in less than two weeks, the Wildcats showcased a lot of reasons for Karl Towns Jr. of New Jersey to join them during a 104-75 victory over Long Island-Brooklyn here Friday.
The 6-11 Towns was seen wearing a Kentucky hat and T-shirt as his Dec. 4 announcement looms and he got to see plenty of offense from coach John Calipari’s team. This was UK’s second time to score 100 or more points — and remember that last year’s national championship team only got to 100 points twice in 40 games.
However, the Cats still need work on defense — Long Island led 43-40 late in the first half before UK went on a 15- run — and should not be compared to last year’s team on that end of the court. But the offense seemed to start clicking especially well late in the first half and the defense did get better the second half when the Cats opened with a smaller lineup.
“This is who we are and I like my team,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari as he listed the pros and cons he saw in the victory. “We have got to be a defensive team that rebounds like crazy and gets out and runs. Early misses or makes, they (Long Island players) were flying up the court. That’s what we want to do. We are trying to get these guys to go. When you are not playing as many guys and guys are playing 30 minutes or more, it’s hard to play a total game of running.
“We are still just learning. That’s why we watned to play these kind of teams (Morehead and Long Island) that would come after us and not be afraid. The way we have been starting games, we are letting people think they can beat us. We are learning that. Am I starting the right people? We are going to get in games in our league where we will be down 25 at halftime if we start like this. We know we have to get more physical, sprint the floor.”
Kentucky does. But the Cats still have 28 assists and just 10 turnovers — “That’s a big number,” said Calipari — and also scored 60 points in the paint against a smaller opponent.
Kentucky had plenty of players put up big numbers.
— Freshman Archie Goodwin continues to master the art of playing point guard with Ryan Harrow still absent for medical/personal reasons. He flirted with a rare triple-double — Calipari said he has know idea and would have been worried it might have been a quadruple double with 10 turnovers even though Goodwin had just three in 36 minutes — before finishing with 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the field and 5-for-7 at the foul line, nine rebounds and eight assists. He also had one block and two steals.
“Archie was great. We don’t necessarily have that guy that Morehead had to go after them,” LIU-Brooklyn coach Jack Perri said. “He did a good job running the show. He gets to the rim going to his left and right. He is a talented kid. He is a big-time player.”
— Freshman Alex Poythress became the first UK freshman since Dwight Anderson in 1979 to have four straight 20-point games. He had 22 points and just missed a double-double with nine rebounds. He also got his first assist of the season. Calipari still was not pleased with his overall effort, though.
“I am still screaming at Alex. I am trying to get him to understand if we want to be what we think we should be or what everybody else thinks we should be, we cannot give up on possessions,” Calipari said.
Poythress knows and was also a bit humbled to learn how long it had been since a UK freshman had scored 20 or more points in four straight games.
“If that’s right, that’s quite an honor. I had no idea,” he said.
— Center Nerlens Noel continued to fill the stat sheet and show he could do more than just block shots. He finished with 18 points — he was 9-for-11 from the field just like Poythress — and also had eight rebounds, five assists and five blocks in 30 minutes. Freshman teammate Willie Cauley-Stein got more playing time — 25 minutes — and responded with 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. He also drew praise for his defense on Jamal Olasewere, LIU-Brooklyn’s leading scorer and rebounder who finished with 22 points and two boards.
“They got 60 points in the paint. They obviously did a great job of focusing on doing that. We talked about crowding the post and did not do a great job. We were late, but don’t know if it would have mattered. They all shot a ridiculous percentage (Uk was 42-for-62 from the field for 67.7 percent),” Perri said.
— Junior Jarrod Polson once again came off the bench to give UK a spark with his hustle, heads-up play. He had five points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal in 19 minutes and Calipari says even if Harrow comes back this weekend as expected, he’ll have to fight his way past Polson for playing time.
“He knows what is expected. In pick and roll right now, I kept telling him he keeps looking at the screen because he does not want to get hit,” Calipari said. “But when you are talking about him offensively, he has played against some of the best players in college basketball the last few years and done well (in practice). He makes the 3. I am confident in him at the free throw line. He is also scrappy. With 50-50 balls, he comes up as well as anybody on our team.”
Kentucky doesn’t play again until Thursday when it faces its first true road test at Notre Dame, a game Poythress knows will help answer more questions about this team.
“We are excited. We want to see what the fans will be like. We want to see how we do. Every game we learn something,” Poythress said.
And the more UK learns, the better it will be.