UK will face Duke’s athleticism in first regular season game of season


Duke freshman forward Zion Williamson dunks during their exhibition game against Virginia Union on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, in Durham, North Carolina. Photo by Ian Jaffe | Duke Chronicle

As UK basketball gears up for yet another season, the perennial mystery surrounding the freshmen increases after their exhibition season, and they look to use their combination of youth and experience to take on another year.

The Cats aren’t the only young team looking to seize control, as the rival No. 4 Duke Blue Devils boast a star-studded lineup with only two juniors expected to be in their regular rotation (Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden). Duke is coming into the season with the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, featuring Canadian star R.J. Barrett, highlight dunker Zion Williamson and lanky wing player Cam Reddish.

The Blue Devils make it very clear how they’re going to defeat teams: with athleticism. As Williamson’s 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame glides across the court with surprising speed, he imposes his physicality with help from Barrett, a passing, shooting and athletic phenom in his own right.

Williamson is also stretching his shot to the perimeter, meaning he’ll have a chance to open up the floor for more driving lanes to his replay-worthy dunks.

If a team focuses too much on Williamson, however, Reddish and Barrett will have a field day. Both are accomplished shooters, especially Barrett.

Barrett has already established himself as a competitor. In the FIBA U-19 tournament semifinal round in 2017, against a USA team that had cruised through teams up to facing Barrett’s Canadian team, the guard dropped 38 points in a 99-87 win that eliminated the USA from championship contention. That American team featured UK players P.J. Washington and Quade Green, as well as current NBA players Josh Okogie and Kevin Huerter.

The main concern for Duke, at least early in the season, is its defense. A very overmatched Ryerson team was their first game, one they won by just 19 points after allowing the Canadian college to score 67 points. They’ve shored up their efforts since then, most recently dispatching Ferris State at home, 132-48. They’ll have no more exhibitions until they face the Cats on Tuesday.

UK won’t have to wait to face their bitter rival, a team they’ve played only 21 times in both teams’ history. Every time these teams have played since the fated East Regional Final in 1992, both teams have held a Top 10 ranking when squaring off against each other. The Blue Devils have won seven of the last nine matchups.

The season-opening game will be Tuesday, Nov. 6, at 9 p.m. in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.