Kentucky racks up 29 assists in comfortable exhibition victory

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With Trey Lyles and Willie Cauley-Stein sitting out the team’s trip to the Bahamas this summer for health reasons, Kentucky’s exhibition game against Pikeville College Sunday evening was the first opportunity to see John Calipari’s ten-man rotation against outside competition. For a large portion of the game the Wildcats rotated two five-man groups against an opponent that, as expected, proved to be overmatched with regards to both size and athleticism.

The final score was 116-68, with the Wildcats scoring a staggering 86 of their points in the paint, so there’s only so much that can be taken from the game given the difference in skill level. However, one of the positives that can be taken from the game is how unselfish the Wildcats were with the basketball, as 29 of their 49 made field goals were assisted.

The assist percentage Sunday (59.2%) is a far cry from what last year’s national runner-up squad produced, with just 44.4% of that team’s made baskets being assisted. Kentucky ranked 13th in the SEC in assist percentage last season, but thanks in large part to their size and individual skill level still managed to be the conference’s second-most efficient team on the offensive end of the floor.

Point guards Andrew Harrison (nine) and Tyler Ulis (four) were responsible for 13 of those 29 assists against Pikeville, with a total of eight Wildcats finishing the game with at least two. Scoring-wise Karl-Anthony Towns led the way with 22 points, and in total six Wildcats scored in double figures. Following the game, sharing the basketball was one of the things Calipari discussed according to Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The Cats finished with 29 assists and 25 “one-mores,” as Calipari calls them. Those are plays where one guy has a decent shot but passes it up to give a teammate a better look.

“That’s the only way this will work, if they really want to share for each other,” he said, admitting (facetiously) to one concern. “Probably should have one more platoon. I would probably feel better with three platoons.”

There’s no denying the fact that Kentucky has the depth and talent needed to win a national title, and while last year’s group wasn’t as deep and dealt with its share of issues along the way they finished one win short of the ultimate goal. One way in which Kentucky can make this season more manageable is to share the basketball, thus applying pressure to the opposition on that end of the floor.

It’s difficult to take too much from exhibitions given the disparity in areas such as skill, size and athleticism, but ball movement and unselfishness are aspects that can be evaluated regardless of the opposition. Kentucky shared the basketball, resulting in “easy” scoring chances throughout the game, and that will be a key to their success this season.