So the first exhibition game is in the books, and a team that resides closer to Rupp Arena than the Wildcats themselves helped provide an entertaining evening and a good first test for this fledgling juggernaut.
A hearty thanks to the Transylvania Pioneers for making the short walk over from their hallowed halls to test the young Wildcats in an exhibition. Transy showed they are a classy D-III team by playing the highly-ranked Wildcats even for 25% of the game. Their deadly perimeter shooting and nifty passing really showed Kentucky that you can't come in and walk over a well-drilled team of upperclassmen just because you're taller, more athletic and more skilled. Basketball is a team game, and Transylvania showed tonight why even an inferior team can hang with a bunch of elite athletes.
Fortunately for Kentucky, they got the message. They learned many things tonight, among the most important of which is that you must respect every opponent, no matter how seemingly inferior on paper, or in the eyes of the media. Just like the 30-1 shot that wins in horse racing, these kids don't care if observers don't think they can win. They believe, and that belief can be deadly.
But the Wildcats believe, too. They believe they are among the best, and they did their best to show it in the second half, when they came out with a purpose, defended, shared the ball, and hit the glass. That was all it took against Transylvania, but much tougher challenges remain. But not yet. Not for a while.
Here are my quick observations:
- Game ball: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist was the only player who really showed that he understood what it takes to play every game like it is your last. 19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 turnovers and a block. Not a bad line. He was also much the best on defense.
- Terrence Jones played well. Double-doubles are always hard to argue with.
- Darius Miller did a lot of good things tonight, but I thought he could have shown more leadership. But he rebounded reasonably well and shared the ball with 4 assists. More to like than dislike.
- Doron Lamb had a good game as well. He missed some open looks, but made 50% of his 3's. That's good, and so are two steals.
- Anthony Davis did not look good to me on offense. He was weak with the ball, took some bad shots, and did not dominate like we might expect. He did block 8 shots, though, and probably altered another four or five. His length on the perimeter is scary.
- Marquis Teague played relatively poorly in the first half, but very well in the second. He shot the ball badly (1-5), but he had 9 assists and played terrific defense in the second half.
- Kyle Wiltjer played well, took good shots, and played hard all around. His defense needs work and his footwork could be better. But he rebounded, shared the ball, and looked pretty good.
- Eloy Vargas did what you expect -- provided a few minutes of relief. He is no Josh Harrellson, at least not yet.
- We can expect to see a ton of sagging man to man this year, so we had either better hit the three, or learn better ways to get the ball in scoring position inside the paint.
Overall, I didn't hate what I saw tonight, but neither did I love it. The second half was much better than the first, particularly the first half of the first stanza. When Kentucky began defending with intensity and trying to take advantage of what the defense gave them instead of shooting every three pointer that came open, they extended the lead and looked as dominant as you would expect. When they jacked up three point shots five seconds into possessions, they looked overrated.
I'm sure Coach Cal will have lots of film to teach the team what they did wrong, which in this game was plenty. With that said, they were sometimes remarkable and even amazing, but they have a long way yet to go to be a team that can challenge for the Big Enchilada.