By Nick Gray | Basketball beat writer
After two three-point shots made by Transylvania University cut the UK lead to nine points in an exhibition game Friday, Cats head coach John Calipari displayed displeasure toward his team; specifically sophomore forward Alex Poythress and a water cooler he slammed on the sideline.
In a game where no Pioneer stood taller than 6 feet, 6 inches, and all five Cats starters measured to at least that height, UK’s first half defensive struggle was the biggest story in the 76-42 Cats win in front of 20,740 people at Rupp Arena.
“The biggest thing that’s learned is energy and effort trumps talent. It just does. It always has, it always will,” Calipari said. “… Obviously our talent isn’t playing with enough energy and effort.”
Eleven Cats played nine minutes or more as Calipari subbed early and often.
With freshman guard Andrew Harrison sidelined with a knee contusion, Poythress got the start with freshman guards Aaron Harrison and James Young, freshman forward Julius Randle and sophomore forward Willie Cauley-Stein.
Poythress did not score in 12 minutes in the first half and had seven points overall with one rebound.
The Cats began the game against Transylvania’s zone defense with three three-point shots made in the first three UK possessions, started by Young and finished by his fellow freshmen starters, Aaron Harrison and Randle.
Randle scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the first half, highlighted by an offensive possession where the forward grabbed two rebounds and was fouled on a shot attempt with UK up 22-17 and 10:26 left in the half.
Randle split the pair of free throws, indicative of the entire game for the Cats. UK hit 11-of-22 free throws for a 50-percent clip.
Calipari was visibly upset with the Cats’ defense in the final minutes of the first half, and echoed that point after the game.
“The biggest thing is you give up 30 points (in the first half) and you’re like ‘Guys, they’re making threes. Are you watching the game?’” Calipari said.
Transylvania made six three-point field goals in the first half, led by guard Trevor Tiller who had three such shots.
After the game, Randle, who led UK in rebounding in the game with 12, agreed with his coach.
“One of his pet peeves is not playing hard. We were just not out there playing hard enough on defense or offense running the floor,” Randle said.
The one player, Calipari said, who started to play with effort he liked was Young, who scored nine points in the first half and finished the game with three steals.
The Cats came out of the locker room in the second half and did not give up a basket to Transylvania in the first 5:24 of the half. The Pioneers shot 4-for-24 in the final 20 minutes, including 2-for-10 from behind the three-point line.
“I didn’t think we were going to score,” Transylvania head coach Brian Lane said.
Calipari had one teaching moment in the second half, when coming out of a timeout, the Cats failed to inbound the ball cleanly with Randle, Johnson, Willis, Harrison and Young in the game. Transylvania stole the ball and hit a three-point shot at the other end. Calipari instructed five players on the bench to check into the game after the steal and called a timeout after the made basket to allow them to substitute.
“If we get that kind of effort, that’s exactly what will happen,” Calipari said. “They’ll all come out. Then the guys will be saying, please don’t play me with him and him because you’re going to take us all out. Then all of a sudden peer pressure takes over.”
The Rupp Arena crowd roared back to life for the final time in the game as senior guard Jarrod Polson dished to freshman guard Dominique Hawkins. Hawkins lobbed the ball at the rim to forward Jon Hood, who slammed the ball into the basket with 5:12 left in the game.
Freshman forward Marcus Lee did not play in the first half, as Calipari said he was looking at different lineups. The 6-foot-9-inch forward played nine minutes in the second half, scoring three points and grabbing two rebounds along with a block.
Next for the Cats is a second exhibition game against the University of Montevallo at 7 p.m. on Monday at Rupp Arena, four days before the season opener against the University of North Carolina at Asheville.