By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Okay, it’s time for real basketball now.
Kentucky did more than just go through the motions here Friday night in a 86-64 exhibition win over Indiana University-Pennsylvania (IUP) but not a lot more.
The Cats got explosive 3-point shooting from Tyler Herro in the first half and reliable play from Reid Travis (22 points, 14 rebounds) and P.J. Washington (20 points, six rebounds, three blocks) but the defense was far from suffocating and the offense did not flow the way it will need to against No. 4 Duke Tuesday in Indianapolis when the season starts for real.
Don’t get me wrong, Kentucky still has all the pieces to be a special team. It’s just that UK doesn’t look nearly as far along and polished as most expected after the display the Cats put on in the Bahamas in August.
“We had guys not moving their feet, not fighting,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We had some guys play well, some guys not play well. But they are fine. Got a couple of days to prepare for this next one that will be a hard game. Now may be harder than I thought. We need more energy defensively and the game Tuesday will be great for film to see who needs to do what. After today, we have a ways to go.
The biggest issue is that the defense has not forced much disruption against either Transylvania, a Division III team, or IUP, a a top five Division II team that beat Morehead . That has to change starting with the Duke game with the schedule UK is going to face this year. Calipari said UK again gave up too many straight-line drives and failed to communicate well on defense other than Travis who did communicate.
Kentucky was just 1-for-13 from 3-point range against Transy. Herro hit two 3’s in the first 90 seconds Friday night. He finished 5-for-7 from 3-point range and had 17 points, four assists and three rebounds. Overall, Kentucky was 9-for-22 from 3-point range as Travis, Washington, Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley each had one.
“This team may be a post-up game. We will play to our strengths. There were three or four plays (to throw inside to post up) … just throw it in there and we will play off it,” Calipari said. “I want to rebound and fly off it. But I don’t mind 22 3’s. Probably 18 to 22 is who we are. We will play teams trying to get up 40 3’s. We just don’t play that way.”
IUP coach Joe Lombardi, a former Pittsburgh assistant, said it was a thrill to play in Rupp Arena where he joked there were more people in the press room than his team had at some road games.
“It is somewhat of a mountain top for a coach of 40 years to bring a team in here that was able to compete,” Lombardi, who had a son work as a graduate assistant at UK, said. “I think Kentucky has a really good team. We have a bunch of good players. We can beat a lot of Division I teams. This isn’t a run of the mill Division II team. I am glad we were able to challenge them and helps prepare them for Duke in some small degree.
“A number of coaches or programs will not play us. Not know if they don’t want to take a risk of losing, but really grateful to coach Cal for giving us this opportunity.”
Calipari praised IUP.
“That team did a terrific job blocking out,” Calipari said.