Second-half surge shows UK's firepower

November, 16, 2011
11/16/11
2:25
AM ET

NEW YORK -- Can we please get a cease-and-desist order on this notion that Kentucky is not a very good team yet?

Look, I get it. John Calipari is a perfectionist of sorts. He wants to ensure that these players aren’t bursting with an ego the size of the Commonwealth, so he plays mind games with them.

But this chatter heading into the Kansas game about how there are maybe 100 teams better than the Wildcats? Complete rubbish, of course.

Sure, Kentucky has its moments where it looks lost, selfish and a bit flustered. But that doesn’t last long.

Marist was down by only four to the Wildcats late in the first half of the season opener. Kentucky won by 50.

Kansas was the aggressor for most of the first half Tuesday night in the inaugural Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden, and the teams went into the break tied at 28.

Then UK jumped all over the Jayhawks and built a lead that swelled to 17 just like that. The final score was 75-65 and the Cats were never seriously challenged toward the end.

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireAs frustrated as he can get, even John Calipari would have to admit he's got a very good team.
Calipari said at halftime Tuesday that the reason for the erratic play was the freshmen he had on the court -- three most of the time in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Anthony Davis. He said there was too much one-on-one play. He even called it AAU basketball at one point.

The message was received.

“We had a bunch of young guys who were trying to play and do their own thing,’’ Calipari said. “I’ve got a bunch of young players and you wonder why I’m going crazy. We’ve got to learn how to finish a game.’’

Well, the real problem seems to be understanding how to start a game. Of UK's 19 turnovers, 12 came in the first half. Teague eventually settled down, though, and Terrence Jones bullied his way around the basket. There was steady play from senior Darius Miller, fast-break production from Gilchrist and Lamb and the shot-blocking of Davis -- all adding up to a dominant second-half performance.

“It’s early and we’ve got a whole different group of guys,’’ Jones said. “We have to learn.’’

Kentucky has been able to simply flip the switch so far. And it could work for a while, likely right up until the Wildcats face North Carolina on Dec. 3 at Rupp Arena. And by then, the Wildcats should be able to find a way to play without such disruption in the first 20 minutes.

As for the Jayhawks, they played with a purpose but just couldn’t effectively finish in the post during the second half. They had empty possessions and are still in search of consistent play at key positions. They were somewhat like Michigan State in the first game against Duke. The Spartans were effective early in that game too, and tended to be the aggressor. But the inability to finish plays in the halfcourt and then to release run outs or 3-pointers on the other end led to runs for the opponent.

Kansas doesn't have that many freshmen to incorporate, though. Kentucky will go through a learning curve due to the inexperience. The selfish play should settle down -- this is only game No. 2, after all. Calipari is still figuring out how to use freshman wing Kyle Wiltjer, who only played three minutes because the game was so physical. He turned to Eloy Vargas since he has the experience.

Hey, these are all good problems to have, whether it’s November or March. Calipari was the spin master earlier this week, saying that he had no idea what his team would do against Kansas. Well, he was sort of right. He wasn’t sure if the Wildcats would perform to their potential for a full 40 minutes. And it turns out they didn’t -- and they may not for some time.

But there is no reason to believe that Kentucky won’t remain one of the top teams in the country from this point forward. It doesn’t mean UK and its rabid fans should book tickets to New Orleans quite yet. We’re a marathon away from that at this point.

It is, however, truly scary to think how dangerous these young Cats will be whenever they put together a complete 40 minutes.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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