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Rewind: Cats suffocate Transy

Exhibition #2
Nov. 5, 2012
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.

Willie Cauley-Stein swarms a Transylvania player in UK's win (Darrell Bird/TCP)

John Calipari's formula of overturning the roster each season, bringing in a new batch of impossibly talented freshmen and hoping it all comes together sooner rather than later looked like it might hit a snag through the first half of Kentucky's final exhibition game.

The Cats muddled through a turnover-plagued half and led Transylvania by just nine at the break, but Calipari inserted Julius Mays and Willie Cauley-Stein into the lineup to start the second half in place of Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer and UK took off. The result was a 74-28 dismissing of the Pioneers, who managed just 10 points over the final 26 minutes.

Mays sparked it all but limped to the locker room with 6:06 remaining after landing awkwardly on a three-pointer from the corner. He finished 14 points and five assists, while Nerlens Noel had 15 points and a series of devastating post moves in the second half.

“Look, November and December when you coach new teams, which we seem to be doing every year, it's a learning time for you as a coach. Today I learned some stuff about my team. It's winning or learning, not winning or losing. It's all learning now because by January we've got to be right. You use November and December (to learn).”

“When they defend the three and make threes like they did tonight, they're going to be tough. When Julius (Mays) came off that screen and hit a three (an assistant) leaned over and said, 'We have nothing to stop that.' I said, 'That's the most brilliant statement I've heard all night.'” – Transylvania coach Brian Lane

“Anytime you hurt your knee you are always thinking, 'Oh my ACL, my MCL.' I was scared at first just because of the way I landed. I was glad to hear the doctors say it wasn't anything serious and that everything would be alright.” – Kentucky guard Julius Mays, after he landed awkwardly and was taken to locker room to be examined

Nerlens Noel had a eye-catching night but it was Julius Mays who stole the show without doing anything flashy whatsoever. The senior is a constant ball of energy on the floor, providing a relentlessness and determination that freshmen often lack and need to be shown by example. Mays scored 14 points and had five assists in just 24 minutes before leaving the game after landing awkwardly on a jump shot from the corner. Still, he grabbed UK coach John Calipari's attention because he is a sound player who has quickly earned the respect and trust of his teammates. That will go a long way for a young team.

Willie Cauley-Stein joked that he might make SportsCenter for all the wrong reasons after being dunked on by 6-foot-3 Transylvania forward Brandon Rash, but it also stood out because the Pioneers got next to nothing the rest of the way. Rash drove down the right side of the lane and flushed a one-handed dunk on Cauley-Stein, who said he thought he blocked the shot, to pull Transy within 17-16 with 8:31 remaining in the first half. From that point Kentucky held the Pioneers to just 12 points in 28:31 of game time the rest of the way.

Nerlens Noel is right-handed, but you might not have believed that had you watched him do work on the block in the second half. Noel twice posted up on the right block, took an entry pass, made a decisive move and finished with his left hand, once flushing an almost unfair dunk that drew an emotional response from the mostly even-keeled freshman forward. Noel said after the game he has put in a great deal of work on his left hand but has always felt more comfortable going that way. Could be interesting to watch as the season moves along and scouting binders thicken.

9 – There are going to be times this season, especially early on, when Kentucky will really struggle with continuity and smoothly operating its offense. That was never more evident than in the first seven minutes when Kentucky turned the basketball over nine times, most of which were completely unforced miscues. Brace yourself people, there will be bumps in the road.

The second half was exactly what you would expect Kentucky to do to a Division III team, but the level of competition is going to get cranked up really quickly over the next few weeks and should give a much truer indication of just how far this team has to go. There were good signs though – Mays' leadership, Noel's post game, the defensive effort – as the Cats start to try and put the pieces together.

Kentucky (0-0) gets things started for real on Friday night at 8:30 p.m. against Maryland in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn.

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