Kentucky opened the season against a very solid team in the Albany Great Danes.
Albany was a tournament team from last season and return most of their players. They are projected to win their conference and make the NCAA Tournament again so it was a worthy opponent to open with.
The 'Cats played solid but not spectacular to start the game, but jumped out to a big lead thanks to Derek Willis. Willis scored 14 first-half points to help give the 'Cats a 12-point halftime lead as he was doing it all for the Cats.
Kentucky had a lackluster second half that saw Poythress get into foul trouble, Willis cool off, and some lackluster effort. The 'Cats, and Jamal Murray specifically, turned it on late to pull away and win 78-65 against a likely NCAA team.
WHAT WE LEARNED
- Derek Willis wants to play. I will admit, I have been down on Willis ever since it came out that he needed to fall back in love with the game. For me, if you have a scholarship to the best program in college basketball and you have to learn to love it again, you have a major heart problem and needs to learn lesson the hard way. Having said all that, I was highly impressed with him. I watched him work hard in pre-game and then come out and play hard and produce. He earned playing time prior to tonight and may have earned a permanent spot in the rotation.
- Our Defense around the rim, or lack thereof, is scary. Albany had their way with us anytime they had the ball around the basket. It is such a 180 from the last few years teams. I am sure Cal will adjust and improve. If he does not, this will be a significant weakness of this team
- Dribble Drive? We ACTUALLY ran the dribble-drive motion offense for the first time in a long time, this team will really thrive in it with Briscoe
- The 30-second Shot Clock makes a difference. On multiple occasions we flirted with a shot clock violation, it is minor, but it will make a difference in the game, good or bad yet to be determined.
- Calipari ran out a lineup with ZERO freshman in it. I wonder when/if that has happened before. It was Ulis, Poythress, Lee, Willis, Hawkins.
- Kentucky played sloppy at times, at least 6-7 unforced turnovers. Something that will improve with rhythm and cohesiveness.
- Marcus Lee is comfortable this year, not anxious. His past two years he seemed wound tighter than a yo-yo at times and played not to mess up. Especially in the first half he played aggressive, confident, and like a veteran. He does need to hit free throws though, he missed a lot of them and Cal will not play him late in games for it.
- Skal is still learning on the fly, every time he touched the ball they double teamed. He did not handle it well, but he is a very cerebral player so I guarantee he improved.
- Jamal Murray is so good. Murray seems to have his hand in every play during the game, and he is a threat to pull and hit from anywhere. In one first half sequence he hustled to steal a back door pass, then helped keep a missed shot alive from the floor by tipping it to a player, then set a solid screen of the dribble drive to get Matthews a dunk. Murray is going to be one of the best in the game and a fantastic pro. He even showed off his ambidexterity by pulling up from about eight feet and hitting a lefty jumper. Add to that several run out show time dunks and one put back slam that brought Rupp to a fever pitch.
- This team has fire, and I love it. Poythress nearly got into a scuffle with an Albany player and Ulis and Murray IMMEDIATELY got int he middle of it and defended their guy. They also played with a lot of passion, showing emotion on any great play and frustration on any missed opportunity. I think it is clear Cal has them all not he same page and think they way he wants them to, being "their brother's keeper."