By David Schuh | Basketball columnist
UK will have many games this year like the one they opened their season with Friday night.
They played a sluggish first half, sprinkled with 14 missed free throws and a wildly inconsistent defensive effort.
And then they won by 32. Get used to it.
UK’s first win of the season was impressive for as many reasons as it was mediocre.
UNC-Asheville did to UK what many others will: they fouled. The Bulldogs committed 19 fouls in the first half, seemingly hitting any UK player as soon as he entered the paint.
The Cats subsequently took 31 free throws in the opening 20 minutes, missing enough in that time to make it blatantly obvious they struggle in the category.
But, in a trend that will repeat itself weekly, UK found its consistency in the relentless motor of freshman forward Julius Randle.
Randle finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds in 26 minutes.
He makes his position look so easy, simply because he plays it harder than any 6-foot-9-inch, 250-pound forward in the country. His first double-double of the year, in his first collegiate game, is the standard that he will attempt to live up to as the next four months unfold.
Fifteen rebounds are the second most ever for a UK player in his college debut. How did Randle respond to that stat?
“I feel like I left a lot of balls out there I should have got.”
Randle had considerable help from a guy many thought to be a second-stringer. Sophomore forward Alex Poythress matched his double-double total from last season Friday, totaling 10 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Those two, together with a stat-stuffing night from sophomore forward Willie Cauley-Stein and a surprising 17 points in 15 minutes from freshman forward Marcus Lee, made up for a game of noticeable sloppiness from UK.
They shot 63 percent from the free throw line for the game, and with 48 attempts, that’s fairly indicative of their true quality in that category.
“My three guards went 12-21,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “How do I get you the ball late in the game?”
UNC-Asheville didn’t do anything spectacular on the stat sheet. It’s hard to see on paper where UK didn’t completely dominate the game.
But it was the slow start for the Cats that made for a predictably haphazard game for a young team.
They made mistakes freshmen are expected to make. But they also impressed in the way people expected them to.
Simply put, they are talented enough to win comfortably amidst their mistakes.
That’s a good trait to have, but there’s one problem: they play the No. 2 team in the country in four days.
The Cats will have many games like Friday night. They’ll blow teams out when they look like they should lose.
But Tuesday night, when Michigan State University trots out of the opposing tunnel, those blunders won’t be so easy to overcome.