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Duke’s heralded freshmen humble Kentucky with 118-84 beatdown

Keldon Johnson splits Duke defenders. (Vicky Graff Photo)


Duke beating Kentucky in the season-opening game was not a shock.

After all, Duke had the nation’s best recruiting class and signed the top three players — Zion Williams, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. But for Duke to just dominate Kentucky and kick the Wildcats butts the way they did Tuesday night in Indianapolis, that was a stunner. That trio alone had 83 points.

Duke won 118-84 and the game was never really close after a 9-0 run gave Duke — which opened the game hitting its first four 3-pointers — a 20-18 lead. The Blue Devils had 59 points AT HALFTIME and Barrett had 20 points.

“Duke just toyed with Kentucky,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said late in the first half. “Kentucky has not played well at all. They have been dominated. There has been very little offensive flow for Kentucky. I can’t think of a time I saw somebody go for 60 on Kentucky in the first half. If there was any doubt about the No. 1 recruiting class, that has been erased tonight. They beat a top five team with the No. 2 recruiting class, three guys back off a NCAA Tournament team and a grad transfer. And they were never in the game.”

Actually, it was just 59 that Duke scored in the first half, but what did it matter. Kentucky just had no answer for Duke’s big three and suffered the worst loss in the John Calipari UK era (the previous biggest was 30 points at Tennessee in 2013).

— Barrett got to the rim at will, was a dynamo in transition and hit 3-pointers if needed. He had 33 points on 13-for-26 shooting along with six assists and four rebounds in 32 minutes.

— Williamson showed why Calipari recruited him so hard. Kentucky had no one who could match up with him. “I have never seen a player in basketball like Zion Williamson,” Bilas said. “Not saying he is the best player, but not anyone else like him. He is must see television. He has the feet of a dancer on that 285-pound frame.”

Williamson finished with 28 points on 11-for-13 shooting, seven rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes.

— Reddish is an explosive offensive player with the ability to score a variety of ways. His length and athleticism were overpowering. He had 19 points, two assists and two rebounds.

How bad did it get? Kentucky fans were seen leaving the arena with 15 minutes to play in the game.

“I never anticipated seeing Kentucky fans leave like this. This place was electric before the game,” Bilas said.

That’s how dominant Duke was.

Or perhaps it was that Duke not only outplayed Kentucky, but it also outhustled Kentucky. The Cats just looked rattled and demoralized, things i never expected to see out of this team. Kentucky might have had more experience than Duke, but it was the Blue Devils that thrived on the big stage, not UK.

Duke had 80 points with 13 minutes to play, 100 with 7:30 to go and Kentucky just look demoralized. I never imagined P.J. Washington would start his sophomore season with eight points on 3-for-7 shooting and just two rebounds while fouling out midway of the second half with UK down 30 points. To make it even worse, sophomores Quade Green and Nick Richards combined for just one point and three rebounds. That’s not the numbers anyone was expecting from three returning players off last year’s Elite Eight team.

Freshman Keldon Johnson was UK’s only offensive spark early and had 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting along with four rebounds and two assists. Reid Travis found a way to contribute 22 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field and 9-for-13 at the foul line and seven rebounds. Tyler Herro had 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists but most of his numbers came well after the game was out of hand.

“I think Kentucky will watch this film and face all its mistakes head on,” Bilas said.

Kentucky has plenty to straighten out. It had 15 turnovers to Duke’s four and gave up 27 points off turnovers, 56 points in the paint and 26 fast break points in what has to be one of the worst defensive performances for a Calipari team.

The only good news — it’s only Nov. 7th and it was only one game.


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  1. After having watched UK’s two exhibition games, I was not surprised at the loss and I posted on this forum that I expected Duke to win. However, I did not expect the humiliating beat-down that we witnessed.
    Duke is a well oiled machine featuring the best player I’ve ever seen on the collegiate level in Zion Williamson.

    Kansas will undoubtedly retain their top spot in the rankings for the time being, but I think most of us who watched Duke’s performance know who the #1 team in the country is. I loathe Duke’s basketball program from the top down, but I give them credit for fielding a team that will very likely place 2 or more players in the top 5 of the NBA draft.

    Kentucky, on the other hand, is overrated. Our beloved Cats were overmatched tonight by a superior team. Nevertheless, the season is young and hopefully they will put this debacle behind them and have a successful season, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and wins are not going to come easy for this team.

    I must say that this loss will leave a bitter taste in my mouth for a long time.

  2. One of my first thoughts was wondering how many recruits this beat down will cost us….OUT-PLAYED..OUT-COACHED..OUT-FOUGHT from start to finish. There is no way this outcome could have predicated by anyone. Puke’s 5’s a hell of a lot better than our 5’s. Nice to see the sophomore production and leadership…PJ in foul trouble, and Nick being irrelevant and riding the pine. This is a total embarrassment by any form of measurement and a good possibility of this setting up a very average season. Coach K now TOTALLY owns Coach Cal.

  3. Well, I picked Puke to beat Ky but never dreamed of it being that bad. The Puke freshmen lived up to their hype. But to say Cal was out coached won’t fly. You could have put my 2 month old great grandson in Coach K’s place and it would have been the same. Cats were overwhelmed and out classed. Take heart, they will get better and we’ll have a real good team. It is a long season.

    1. DR…..Cal was totally OUT-COACHED in all phases of the game including in -game adjustments, pre-game preparedness, and not having his team ready for primetime. He stood and sat there totally clueless during and after the game. He was as shell shocked as the team. We couldn’t pass, shoot, defend, or hustle. Coach K gets his pick of the litter and possibly does have the 3 best players in D1. Coach K did good job of keeping his BEATDOWN contained and under control during game but probably exploded with his players in locker room. Apparently our Bahama competition was either that bad or got remunerated handsomely for throwing the games.

      1. I agree with Mike.
        Cal was completely out-coached and the second half numbers prove it to me. After having suffered through the first half’s humiliation, I was hoping to see some adjustments made during halftime that would stop the bleeding. However, it was not to be. Cal and the entire time were shell-shocked when they came out of the locker room and as Larry Vaught points out in a previous blog, this was the result:
        Duke outscored Kentucky 15-5 to start the second half
        Duke went on a 10-0 run over 1:52 to take a 78-47 lead
        Duke led by as much as 37, 91-54, at the 11:45 mark
        Kentucky allowed 59 points in the second half – again tied for the most UK gave up in a half during the Calipari era.

        I also agree that this nationally televised beat-down could be devastating to our recruiting prospects. I suspect that Penny Hardaway was salivating as he watched the spectacle.

  4. Well, it looks like Cal was success in fixing the problem of his team being “too far ahead.”

  5. We just got an ole fashion butt kick last night by a better team. I’m not panicking about the outcome there’s plenty games ahead of us to get better. My question is what happen to the team we saw in August, pretty oblivious we haven’t seen what we saw since then. It’s very early folks don’t jump the conclusion that this going to be a average season like coach Mike said. GO CATS!!

  6. Four teams played last night in the Champions Classic and this is how I rate the performances:
    #1 – Duke
    #2 – Kansas
    #3 – Michigan State
    A distant #4 – Kentucky

  7. I watched just enough of this game to be sorry I did. Hard to beat a basketball team like Duke when shooting only 44% from the field, and 23.5% from 3 point range. All while UK is committing 15 TO’s while forcing only 4 TO’s. Calipari has his work cut out for him today. To many mouths to feed IMO. All this so called star power means hard work in molding them into a good team. I think UK thought after the Bahamas trip that they were special or something. This was a wake up call. That said, It is always darkest right before the dawn, so take heart BBN. UK must live to fight another day, and fight they will. When I listened to Calipari speak pre Duke, IMHO, he sort of played the game down when he needed to convince this bunch that “HEY THIS IS DUKE BOYS, THIS IS WAR!!!” UK fans sure see it that way. If Duke is that much better than UK now, how good will Duke be come March? Oh well, football is 7-2. Go Cats, beat Tennessee!!!!

  8. A positive…
    Seats for home games should be easier to come by.

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