Kentucky won the first four games of the Big Blue Bahamas Tour by an average margin of 24 points. On Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats struggled, but eventually prevailed in the tightest game of their eight-day stay in the Bahamas, with a 77-72 win over Champagne Chalons-Reims from France.
The Wildcats were clinging to a one-possession lead for the final minutes of the game. Kentucky had a chance to extend the lead, but Andrew Harrison’s alley-oop pass to Dakari Johnson was deflected, followed by a missed layup by Johnson with 90 seconds left.
Tyler Ulis, who has been pressing opposing ball handlers all week long, forced a turnover, which led to his breakaway layup with 1:06 remaining. The hustle play earned a standing ovation from John Calipari, who was once again sitting in the top row of the Sir Kendal Isaac Gym, as Barry ‘Slice’ Rohrssen took over head coaching duties on Saturday. That play made it a two-possession game, and would serve as the last bucket of the afternoon, as Charlons-Reims failed to convert on several opportunities in the final minute.
The 5-foot-9 freshman point guard was out the on the floor with both of the Harrison twins. This is worth noting because while Kentucky has plenty of talented big man, a lineup which includes Ulis and the Harrison twins will likely been seen this season.
Saturday marked the first time Kentucky trailed at halftime, with Champagne Chalons-Reims taking a 44-43 lead into the break. The Wildcats defensive intensity was lacking, as Charlons-Reims were able to getting easy looks through the first 20 minutes. Charlons-Reims connected on 19 of its 26 (73 percent) first half attempts.
Kentucky defeated Charlons-Reims 81-58 in the second game of this tour. The Wildcats finish this tour on Sunday against the Dominican Republic, a team that Kentucky defeated by 13 on Friday afternoon. The sixth and final game tips at 1 p.m.
While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.
One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).
They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.
That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.
“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”
As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.
Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.
But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.
With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.
Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.
“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”
Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.
As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.