For a 40-point victory on opening night, the No. 1-ranked team in America still didn’t play quite the way John Calipari wanted.
Not enough energy. Not enough energy in the second half, anyway. When the opponent got physical, Kentucky backed up a little.
“It’s good that it happened,” said Calipari, ever the coach, after his team’s 85-45 let’s-get-this-party-started victory over Grand Canyon at Rupp Arena.
A 40-point win as a teaching tool tells you something about the expectation level of these 2014-15 Cats.
And yet, it was hard to come away from this first real game against real competition of the college basketball season without thinking: Kentucky’s guys are so big they’re supersized.
And we do mean “guys.” We’re talking one after another after another after another after another. It’s one thing to see the numbers on paper and quite another to see the players on the floor. In basketball, there is no debate. Size matters.
“It poses a lot of problems,” said Dan Majerle, the former NBA star and now Grand Canyon coach. “I mean you really have to stay with their bigs. It is hard to help off their bigs because if you do they lob up there and get offensive rebounds.”
Remember when you were a kid and you lowered the goal to eight feet, so you could dunk, and follow dunk, and grab the ball off the backboard and dunk?
At times, that’s what it looked like Friday, like Kentucky was playing on a goal that was less than regulation height.
Willie Cauley-Stein, the 7-foot junior, scored 12 points, made six of seven shots, grabbed five rebounds and blocked four shots.
Dakari Johnson, the 7-foot sophomore, posted his first career double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. He also dished three assists.
Trey Lyles, the 6-10 freshman, scored 14 points in just 17 minutes. He made six of 10 shots, including a pretty three-pointer.
Karl-Anthony Towns, the 6-11 freshman, scored eight points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and had two assists in 22 minutes.
On the offensive end, some baskets came off tip drills as different Cats kept batting the ball, keeping it alive, until a big grabbed the ball and put it in the basket. Kentucky outscored Grand Canyon 58-16 in the paint.
On the defensive end, Kentucky played to its length, blocking seven Grand Canyon shots in the first half while the visiting Antelopes managed just six field goals. The Cats ended up with 10 blocked shots on the night.
“They destroyed us on the offensive rebounds,” said Majerle.
Indeed, Kentucky grabbed 24 offensive rebounds. Grand Canyon had just 12 defensive rebounds.
No team in America has that kind of size in that many guys.
If size matters, it’s also about more than size. It’s about energy and sharpness and doing what you’re supposed to do even when you have a 43-16 lead at the half.
“We just never got in rhythm and never made an extra pass offensively,” Calipari said. “First half defensively we were pretty good. That’s why we had the gap we had. Second half, we didn’t guard.”
“We kind of let go of the rope a little bit,” Cauley-Stein said. “But I mean it comes. It’s the first game. Once it gets hard, dudes are going to find it’s real. That’s the whole game.”
It’s a better game when you have bigs. And Kentucky has plenty of bigs.
“That’s why they’re going to be so good,” Majerle said. “Not only the depth of the their team, but the size.”