LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Kentucky began its quest for a ninth NCAA championship Friday night against UNC-Asheville in Rupp Arena. In that spirit, nine thoughts on the Wildcats' 89-57 victory.
1. Julius Randle had a bit of an off night. And that's bad news for future opponents. He missed some shots early that Cawood Ledford would've called "gimmes." He was yanked a time or two by UK coach John Calipari for not getting rebounds. Grade his game out, he probably gets a C. Also, he got 23 points and 15 rebounds, two short of UK freshman debut records in each category. UNC-Asheville coach Nick McDevitt said, "Rarely do you see a guy with that kind of size and athleticism and skill level." Unless, of course, you coach an NBA team. Randle can handle it, shoot it, and moves as well as any man of his size as you're likely to see. Once Calipari got him to play to contact and get to the line, the game was over. He played, for him, a C game. And he probably had the most impressive NCAA performance of the opening day. Anyone complaining he's getting too much hype hasn't watched him play.
2. UK's season began at just after 7 p.m., but it didn't really have the ignition switch turned until Willie Cauley-Stein did it midway through the first half. And he did it without taking a shot. With the game tied at 13, Cauley-Stein blocked a shot, which keyed a fast break. Andrew Harrison made one free-throw, then Cauley-Stein rebounded his miss of the second shot, leading to a dunk by Alex Poythress, who was fouled on the attempt. Cauley-Stein rebounded that missed free throw and dished to James Young, who made a three-pointer. It was a six-point trip, and from there, the Wildcats were cruising, though he added a steal on the other end for another UK layup. "That spurt is who he is," Calipari said. Now, he wants to see the big man sustain that production for longer periods.
3. Andrew Harrison played his first game of any kind as a Wildcat, and finished with five assists and only one turnover in 29 minutes. That the point guard's turnovers weren't a major topic of postgame conversation after the season-opener is perhaps a first under Calipari. Consider that a victory.
4. One of Calipari's major themes after the game can be summed up in this phrase: "keep moving." He said his team stopped when the ball headed toward the rim -- on both ends -- which would account for some offensive rebounds given up. He also wants to see the offense swing the ball more. "Try to make a play," Calipari said. "If you can't make it, then move the ball. . . . I don't think they're selfish in anyway. I just think they've always played this way. If I get it, I try to take my man. If I've got to go three bounces, I'm going to try to do that. That's done. You can't play that way in a good college game."
5. The Wildcats started four freshman. That had happened in only 135 games in UK history; 96 of those games have been under Calipari. Five UK players scored in double-figures. Four of them were playing in their first college game.
6. Player UK fans will instantly clamor to see more of: Marcus Lee. And why not? He scored 17 points (on 7 of 8 shooting) in 15 minutes. He had one-quarter of the Wildcats' field goals. Also impressive: sophomore Alex Poythress, who finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds. If he does that, UK is going to be hard to handle. But we'll wait for a larger sample size (see: UK-Duke, 2012). 7. Get ready for free throws. With the new emphasis in college basketball on cleaning up the game, the whistles were blowing across the nation Friday night, and they're not going to stop. UK shot 48 free throws, but made only 30. Calipari said it's a concern, because he thinks his team is going to go to the line a lot. Randle made 11 of 13 free throws. The rest of the team was 19 of 35. The Harrison twins and James Young combined to shoot 12 of 21 from the line. "I said (to that trio), how do I get you the ball late in the game?" Calipari said. "What, so you'll get fouled and miss? Then I said, is there anybody in the (Joe) Craft (Center) tonight? Go over and shoot free throws. Walk 12 steps across the street and go shoot free throws." UK's defensive intensity was better than it had been in two preseason games, and the Wildcats showed how their length makes it difficult to get open looks from the outside while their size inside makes scoring difficult. Good offensive teams should still be able to get good looks against the Wildcats, but perhaps not for long. The defense is improving.
8. Calipari wanted to get his young team some competitive experience before facing Michigan State, after last season's experience of facing Duke in the season's second game. But in doing that, Calipari may need to use all the depth at his disposal. The Wildcats will play their second game in three days on Sunday, before traveling to Chicago for their third game in five days against No. 2-ranked Michigan State. UK's Sunday opponent, Northern Kentucky, lost by only one at Purdue Friday night.
9. The last word. Calipari says he's trying to walk a fine line between patience and the need to work quickly: "We've got a group here, everything that happens is new to them, and I've got to have -- there's a gentle balance between patience, and what I said after the game, I shouldn't expect or shouldn't accept you not playing on a full possession, or should I? I said, no. And I should look at you guys and say, pass the ball to each other, pass it quickly, give it up early. You can do those things. You're going to miss shots, you'll turn it over some, you'll get beat to some balls, but the scrambling, the fight isn't there right now. It's almost like we're okay, we can come back and just win it anyway. We've got a ways to go."