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Five observations from Canada exhibition

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Thumbnail image for Knight.jpgI'm not in Windsor, Ontario, to watch the Kentucky men's basketball team live, but like most of you, I watched the game on TV Sunday night to get a look at the first real action of the 2010-11 season. 

After a back-and-forth first half, UK used a late 11-0 first-half run to pull away from Windsor. From there, the Cats never looked back in the second half, easily defeating Windsor 95-62 in the first of three exhibition games up north. Freshman guard Brandon Knight led UK with a team-high 31 points (much more below), while juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins chipped in with 18 and 12 points, respectively.

Again, I wasn't there personally to witness the action, but I thought I would do my best to highlight the five biggest storylines of the game. Guy Ramsey will have some postgame video interviews for us from Canada later on. Make sure you check back for that.

1. Knight may have made a better debut than Wall. OK, I have a confession for you. I wasn't all that impressed by Knight during the open practices last week. For one of the nation's top 10 freshmen, he just didn't stick out to me and seemed to struggle at times. I've quickly learned that was just an aberration. Knight was sensational from start to finish and looks more than ready to take over the reins for NBA Draft No. 1 overall pick John Wall. His line was almost unreal (31 points, seven rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers), especially considering that head coach John Calipari said Knight was on the verge of throwing up pregame. Knight is certainly not the same type of point guard as Wall, but he was just as productive in his first game. The freshman point guard proved he could do just about everything. He was brilliant in transition, unselfish with the ball and yet a lethal scorer at times. If Knight forces the issue like he did Sunday in the regular season, he'll be at the free-throw line a ton. Knight also displayed a pretty good long-range shot, hitting a couple of 3-pointers, including a key triple in UK's 11-0 run that put the Cats up for good. Moments later, Knight hit a beautiful runner off the glass. Some might think it's a crazy shot, but as broadcaster Dave Baker pointed out on the broadcast, Calipari will put up with those shots as long as it's within the context of the offense. Plus, Calipari loves, loves, loves the floater. It might be his favorite shot. Bottom line is that was the Knight that we heard so much about in high school. If there is anybody that can make Kentucky fans forget about Wall, it might be Knight.

2. Early reports of Miller's, Liggins' improvements spill over to game. It almost doesn't feel right to report that Miller and Liggins are brimming with confidence. After all, these are the same two guys that struggled mightily with self-assurance the past two years. For whatever reason - whether it's the departures of last year's talented class, familiarity with the offense or just good ole experience - Miller and Liggins are playing like they're the stars of the team.  Miller, who has noticeably added a few pounds of muscle, looked extremely aggressive. The Maysville, Ky., native, looked possessed at times. He hit 3-pointers, got out in transition and ran, and even threw down a nasty two-hand flush early in the game. After hitting a deep 3-pointer late, Miller mischievously smiled as he backpedaled onto defense. Miller wasn't being cocky by any means; he was showing emotion, something that has lacked in his game in the past. As for Liggins, he continued to display the type of defensive grit that earned him minutes from Calipari last season. The difference in the first exhibition game was he was much more assertive to take the ball to the basket. Liggins sliced through the defense on multiple occasions until suffering  a nasty leg cramp late in the contest. If both players can replicate that effort throughout the year, they're going to flourish in the dribble-drive.

Miller[1].jpg3. Now that is the dribble-drive. The ink had barely dried on Calipari's contract in the spring of 2009 before he started raving about his dribble-drive offense. Kentucky fans across the Commonwealth started daydreaming of an offense where the Wildcats ran relentless from baseline to baseline, similar to the run-and-gun offenses of the Rick Pitino days. While UK had its fair share of transition points a season ago and marched to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it wasn't quite the offense Calipari had promised so many people. By his own admission, he had to rehash the offense a little bit because of UK's size. For better or worse, we're now going to see the dribble-drive offense in full force. With a smaller, more athletic UK team, we saw the Cats run, run, run. In what can only be described as a fast-paced, frenzied Kentucky offense, UK forced the issue from start to finish. Rebounding the ball and getting into transition was a huge point of emphasis last week in practice and it definitely paid off in the first exhibition game. That was never more apparent than when Terrence Jones, UK's second-tallest player in Canada at 6-foot-8, led a fast break, cuffed the ball behind his back and banked it in as if he were a point guard. Whether you're talking about Knight, Miller, Liggins, Jones, Doron Lamb or Stacey Poole, this team of thoroughbreds was made to run.

4. We'll have to wait to see the real Jones, Lamb: Jones and Lamb may or may not play the final two exhibition games in Canada. Jones has been battling a left shoulder injury and left Sunday's game when it started to flare up. His status for the rest of the tournament is day-to-day, but based on his visible discomfort on the UK bench, it's doubtful Calipari will take the risk. Lamb, who suffered a minor ankle injury in practice last week, appeared to aggravate the injury on a drive in the second half. Regardless of whether or not they play, chances are neither guy will be close to 100 percent. If they do take the court again, don't place too much stock into their performances.

5. Kentucky fans never cease to amaze. We know this state bleeds blue through and through. But traveling to Canada for an exhibition game?! Allow me to borrow an overused phrase from Calipari: You people are crazy. In foreign territory, Kentucky packed the St. Denis Centre like it was Rupp Arena. Reports out of Windsor said the crowd was 80 percent pro-UK and that fans were lined up for more than an hour and a half before the game. Remember, folks, this is in Canada at Windsor's home court and more than two months before the season starts. Simply amazing.

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