UK set for first opponent, Northwood



By David Schuh | @KernelSchuh

[email protected]

For the first time since cutting down the nets in April, the UK basketball team will meet an opposing team when they welcome Northwood University to Rupp Arena Thursday night.

The only difference between now and then is, well, just about everything.

“I don’t know who’s going to start yet,” UK basketball head coach John Calipari said. “We’re still trying to figure some stuff out. I’m tinkering with combinations.”

Those combinations tend to make exhibition games intriguing for Calipari. With a lineup of up to four freshmen at a time, the learning curve will be clear from the beginning.

“Defensively we’re just awful right now,” Calipari said. “The things we’re not doing well will be glaring.”

That defense will be a key point for the Cats early on in the season. With the speed and length the team possesses, they have to learn to defend as a unit rather than relying on their athleticism.

“I think it will be a lot better,” graduate student Julius Mays said. “We’re working on a lot of the positioning, being in gaps and how to play ball screens and down screens. I think you’ll see a lot better defense than what you saw in the blue and white game.”

Northwood is an accomplished team in their own right. The reigning NAIA national finalists, the Seahawks return seven seniors and four juniors. Their head coach, Rollie Massimino, will return to Lexington for the first time since leading Villanova to a national championship in Rupp Arena 27 years ago.

Northwood lost to Michigan State Tuesday 85-57, although they were only down six at halftime.

UK’s offense, although potentially erratic with the lineup experimentation, will see its first time against an opposing defense as well.

“Playing these last couple of practices and scrimmages against each other are getting us anxious to play a game to see where we’re at and hopefully learn from it,” sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer said.

With two high-profile games to lead off the regular season, these exhibitions will be critical for the Cats to initially figure out their identity as a team. Calipari hopes both sides of the court will see more efficiency as they prepare for Nov. 9.

“This is going to be great for this team,” Calipari said. “They have got to change and they have to understand it has to be a habit.”

The game starts at 7 p.m. and will be televised locally on FS South.