There's a reason they call it the 'preseason' after all.
It wasn't really even close. And it wasn't really even all that good. But every game is a building process at this point for this team. For that, Monday's 81-50 win over USC-Upstate at Rupp Arena was a good example.
Still, despite a less-than-stellar, or more appropriately less-than-the-previous-game, performance by the Cats veterans, there was still much to like, and much to see.
Way Cool Juniors
While things were not as smooth for the team overall, the up-the-floor game not as seamless, the extremely capable junior class did its job on Monday, providing the team leader in assists, rebounds and points yet again (just as I expect will happen most games this year).
Shooting guard Joe Crawford, hoping to establish himself as the go-to scorer, led the Cats with a strong 17 points and 4 offensive boards (6 overall), but shot poorly (5-of-15 overall). That doesn't frighten me, however, as that's what scorers do. And this season, Crawford's scoring is going to be absolutely vital to team success.
Starting interior beast Randolph Morris sleepwalked his way past an outmanned USC-U frontcourt, grabbing six boards and totalling 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting. He was, by all accounts, non-plussed by playing a nobody. I won't pile on Randy, but it is amazing that the big guy just doesn't seem to be able to play consistently hard. Still, keep in mind he "sleepwalked" to 5-of-6 baskets in just 16 minutes played. That's a good ratio.
Folks expecting Ramel Bradley to suddenly stop playing good cop and begin shooting at random were disappointed again, as Smoov again ran the first team effectively. Bradley took only 5 shots, dished 4 assists but threw the ball away 5 times. It shouldn't be anything but working out the kinks for Bradley at this stage, and his limited offensive output is a good sign, not a bad one.
While USC-U provided little opposition, there were positive signs, at least early. The Wildcats were up 43-15 after one frame, and with the first team playing more often. That's testament to a weekend spent being grilled on defense by Tubby Smith. By contrast, the substitutes allowed Upstate to close the gap to 38-35 Cats in the second half. However, Kentucky still breached the 80-point mark, a goal that would not only please Big Blue Nation, but would also be a good sign for the Wildcats going forward.
Pogo by Perry
The big story this early season has been the precocious UK freshmen. Strongman Jodie Meeks again provided a blitz of scoring (13 points), while backcourt mates Michael Porter and Derrick Jasper struggled more this time around.
But the real story was the emerging forward Perry Stevenson. Pogo, as TCP has begun to call him, bounced and dunked his way to 11 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks (reportedly a very low assessment) and 2 steals in only 24 minutes -- an extremely effective use of his time.
The development of Stevenson is absolutely imperative with senior Lukasz Obrzut proving typically stiff and sophomore Jared Carter clearly not ready for prime time himself.
Ministers of defense
As noted above, the glaring issue after the win over Lindsey Wilson last Thursday was the lack of effective defense against a clearly overmatched opponent. This time around, things were much better for the Cats.
Upstate shot a miserable 17 percent in the first half, and only 29 percent for the game on Monday. That's a big improvement from last time out, and a sign that the kids were listening.
All in all, a good game -- not a great one -- and perhaps it will be good for Wildcats fans to have their usual overexuberence tempered a bit for a young, developing team. There's a lot of work to do, but baby steps, folks, baby steps.
UP NEXT: Miami (OH) at Rupp for the first regular season game on Wed., Nov. 15.