Amidst much fanfare the Kentucky Wildcats played their first regular season game on Friday night against UNC Asheville, and it took John Calipari’s team just over a half to impose its will in the 89-54 victory. Energy can be an issue for any team, especially one as young as this talented group of Wildcats.
Part of the process of becoming an elite team is to learn from those experiences and on Sunday, Kentucky played with improved effort from the start in their 93-63 win over Northern Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Julius Randle posted another double-double, finishing with 22 points and 14 rebounds, with Aaron (16 points) and Andrew Harrison (13) also reaching double figures.
Kentucky’s superior size and skill resulted in a 51-24 edge on the glass (including an offensive rebounding percentage of 53.3%) and 54.5% shooting from the field (66.7% on two-pointers), and that can make it difficult to take away too many lessons from the result. But the fact that Kentucky came out of the gate ready to go bodes well two days ahead of their showdown in Chicago against No. 2 Michigan State.
Through two games (and the exhibitions) it can be said that Randle’s set himself apart from the pack, especially when considering what other Wildcat freshmen have done during Calipari’s tenure.
Ultimately, Kentucky’s chances of winning a national title will depend on whether or not everyone both understands and accepts their roles. Despite two blowout victories Kentucky’s still growing in that regard, and that will be the case regardless of what happens on Tuesday night.
Ten of the 12 Kentucky players who saw action on Sunday scored, and defensively they limited the Norse to 32.8% shooting (9-for-35 3PT). But ultimately games like these aren’t going to be the contests by which the Wildcats are judged. While Sunday’s result certainly shouldn’t be overlooked, the lessons learned on Tuesday night will be of more value as the season rolls on.