Close game early on a ‘teaching tool’ for UK



Transylvania wasn’t the team that started the opening exhibition game slow after its long, arduous 0.4-mile walk from its campus to Rupp Arena. It was UK.

Transylvania jumped to a 5-0 lead in the first 1:49, prompting UK head coach John Calipari to call his first timeout of the young season.

“I was hoping the power would go out,” Transylvania head coach Brian Lane said, “so we could spend a little more time with that lead.”

They did, kind of, as they were still within one point after 12 minutes.

“We thought we were going to win by 100,” Calipari said. “I was so happy the game was close (early). It’s a teaching tool. It’s a chance for me to tell them, look, they’re a good team, but they’re Division III. Come on.”

Even the opposing coach was using the game as a teaching tool for UK.

“We approached this as a way to help Kentucky get ready for those early games in the season,” Lane said, in perhaps the first-ever instance a coach straight-up said his team entered the game with a zero percent hope of winning.

UK ended up blowing the Pioneers out 97-53, but those first few minutes were a reality check. Guard Doron Lamb said the team came out “nonchalant.”

“It let us know it’s not going to be as easy as we thought it would,” guard Marquis Teague said. “We expected to come in from the first half and be up 30.”

Not because this team is overconfident. It’s so easy to get carried away after watching the defense-optional Big Blue Madness and Blue-White scrimmage. UK had looked in mid-season form before the regular season had even begun.

UK’s slow start Wednesday provided perspective. Calipari said his team is young every year, and this year is no different. It’s easy to discard those lines because he’s proven so adept at getting a young roster running smoothly early, but they’re still true.

This team has only been a team for a few weeks now. Even during those weeks, players were split up. Some guys, such as Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis, have only played with each other a few practices.

So yes, there was a lack of cohesiveness early.

“We just weren’t on the same page sometimes,” Teague said. “Defensively, we were breaking down. They were getting open looks. Offensively, we were discombobulated at times. Just a little confused.”

Yes, this team still has to figure out how to impose its will. UK had a massive height advantage. The kind of advantage where, to prepare for Davis’ length, Lane held a broom over his head and made players shoot over it.

UK didn’t post up as much as it should have. Teague acknowledged that, and so did Calipari.

“Here we are with a big height advantage, and five of our first six shots were threes,” Calipari said. “That’s what happens when you have young guys or guys playing without that fire. You settle.”

Did the problems concern Calipari?

“It’s always alarming to me,” Calipari said. “I’m an alarmist. Is that a word?”

It is for him, but it doesn’t mean this game should create panic. In no way should this game cast doubt on UK’s ability to work through these areas of concern; it just served as a reminder that yes, young teams have their issues to figure out at a young juncture in the season. UK will certainly figure them out. It did last season, and it will again this season, probably sooner than later.

Especially now that players will start playing together more often. Teague said he felt the chemistry improving in the second half and expects that to continue.

But for now, UK isn’t perfect.

“The good news is everybody in this building saw it,” Calipari said. “Anybody that watched it on TV saw it.”

We saw it. But we’ll also see UK keep improving as the season comes closer.