By LARRY VAUGHT
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.