By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — It was a game that Kentucky never really seemed in danger of losing — the Cats had a 21-point lead early in the second half — but was also a game again where Kentucky did not come close to playing a full game.
The Cats won 70-62 but were horrendous late in the game offensively to enable Troy to make the final score more than respectable despite missing 23 of 27 3-point shots.
Kentucky let Troy cut a 21-point lead to 13 at 51-38 with 15:05 to go and then sliced it to 68-59 with 2:59 to go forcing a timeout by a frustrated coach John Calipari. The Cats went 0-for-7 from the field and went 5 1/2 minutes without a field goal before Diallo scored on a drive. Of course, UK came back and missed its next two shots — another 2:20 scoreless drought — to let Troy again get to within eight points at 70-62 with 1:08 left.
“I had to battle them too much in the second half. I have to teach them how to win. If that game was closer, we lose,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Defensively you just don’t have letdowns when you are ready to bury somebody. That is that old AAU basketball.
“But the first half, we played a great half. We just are not ready to play 40 minutes. They go and then revert. When there is a dry spell somebody has to make a shot or go in and get fouled.”
Kentucky missed nine of its last 10 shots — something that has been a trend this year — and was 26 of 59 from the field. After going 3-for-15 from the foul line in the last game, UK was 15 of 23 Monday night.
“This is certainly a game we could have hung our heads but we hung around and had the ball down eight,” Troy coach Phil Cunningham, a Campbellsivlle, Ky., native, said. “If we hit a few more 3’s, it would have been a little closer. But give them credit. Their length and quickness on the perimeter, you are never really open.You think you are open and then they close the gap and it is a contested shots
“But give our guys credit. We at least had them a little scared there at the end.”
Kevin Knox had 17 points and five rebounds.
“I loved the fact that Kevin started driving the ball. I need him to get to the rim and not settle for 3’s,” Calipari said.
Quade Green added 13 points, three rebounds and three assists. Gabriel had the best overall numbers with 12 points on 3-for-5 shooting from the field and 5-for-6 at the line, six rebounds and one assist.
Hamidou Diallo helped Kentucky outbound Troy 53-30 as he grabbed 10 missed shots. Nick Richards and P.J. Washington both had eight.
Kentucky took a 41-25 halftime lead even though both teams were sluggish offensive. Troy was just 9-for-31 from the field, including 1-for-14 from 3-point range. That was a pregame worry for Cunningham even though his team was hitting 37 percent from 3-point range coming into the game.
The Cats (4-1) were just 16 of 37 from the field and did not make a 3-pointer until Gabriel hit one with 28 seconds left in the half.
But as it has all season — and did again to end the game — UK had a huge offensive drought. Remember the Cats missed their last 15 shots in the first half against Utah Valley. This time they were 1-for-9 from the field and went almost 4 1/2 minutes without a field goal before Gabriel connected.
“This is a freshman team. That’s the kind of stuff they do. They have to listen. They have to know every possession matters. They don’t see that yet,” Calipari said.
However, thanks to a resounding 32-17 rebounding advantage and forcing 11 turnovers while making just four the Cats still had a comfortable halftime lead.
“I thought our rebounding was outstanding in the first half,” Calipari said. “But this is going to be a process. We had 20 minutes when we were really good. But we just have breakdown after breakdown as soon as we get a little fatigued. We can’t have that.”
In the second half, Kentucky had 12 turnovers. Washington had four, Green 3 and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 3.
“We went to a lineup at the end with our oldest guys on the floor and they were really good. That was our quickest lineup. We didn’t worry about size. They overwhelmed us with size but we had quickness on the floor,” Cunningham said.