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Trey Lyles had 12 points, four rebounds and three assists in UK's 71-52 win over Buffalo on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Trey Lyles had 12 points, four rebounds and three assists in UK's 71-52 win over Buffalo on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
After a lackluster first half, Kentucky trailed Buffalo by five points. The buzz on social media was that the platoon system that's defined the start of the season had met its end.

Even one of his assistants said it.

"Stop," Calipari told him, not revealing the coach's identity. "We're playing the way we play and we're figuring it out."

It was a good thing he stuck to his guns.

Coach Cal opened the second half with his second platoon as he has in two exhibitions and the season opener and the group responded. Riding a shot of energy from Trey Lyles, the Wildcats dominated the second half and moved to 2-0 with a 71-52 win over visiting Buffalo (1-1), allowing just 14 points on 4-of-19 shooting after the break.

Lyles got it started with a 3-pointer from the left wing. Moments later, he intercepted a pass near midcourt and raced to the rim for a thunderous dunk. In a matter of 42 seconds, he had erased that halftime deficit and breathed energy into the Rupp Arena crowd of 22,175.

"I just wanted to go out there and playing with energy in the second half and just try pick the team up, pick the spirits up," Lyles said. "That's what the second platoon was trying to do at the start of the second half."

For the game, Lyles would tie for the team high with 12 points, adding four rebounds, three assists and steal. The 6-foot-10 freshman came to Kentucky with a reputation as a rebounder and adept post scorer, but he's shown off a diverse game after returning from a foot injury that forced him to miss the summer and UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour.

"He's just learning to play fast, yet be in control," Calipari said. "He is a skilled 6-10, three/four. He can post you; he can make a jump shot. He's a pretty good passer."

Lyles was a power forward by trade before arriving in Lexington, but Kentucky's incredible post depth has moved him into more of a perimeter role. Working with and going up against a veteran teammate every day in practice, Lyles is finding his way.

"It's been an adjustment in practice and stuff like that, but I'm becoming more comfortable with it, me and Alex (Poythress) both," Lyles said. "Coach is really helping us and me and him are helping each other with playing it."

It's players like Dakari Johnson who have bumped Lyles to the three.

Johnson, along with Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns, is one of the Cats standing 6-11 or 7-foot, and he joins Lyles on the second platoon. On Sunday, he also joined Lyles in providing a boost when his team badly needed it.

In spite of the new platoon system, Johnson played 26 minutes. He played more than that just once as a freshman. All the while, Johnson worked tirelessly, something he acknowledges he would not have been capable of before transforming his body this offseason.

"It just feels like while I'm out there I'm not getting tired as fast and I just try to get the crowd hyped and get my teammates hyped up, and that's what we did in the second half," Johnson said.

Johnson had nine points, 12 rebounds, four blocks, three assists and a steal, finishing a made free throw shy of what would have been his second double-double in as many games. He shot 3 of 6 from the charity stripe, leaving just one area for the sophomore to address.

"He fights," Calipari said. "He tries. He runs hard. He's giving everything that's in his body, and that's all you can ask as a coach."

The same can be said for another Wildcat who's pretty much Johnson's polar opposite when it comes to body type. Standing 15 inches shorter than Johnson, Tyler Ulis deftly ran the point, scoring 12 points, dishing six of UK's 17 assists and committing no turnovers.

Devin Booker, meanwhile, scored eight of his 10 points after halftime, meaning UK's top four scorers on Sunday came from the second platoon. That serves as proof that the platoon system is flexible enough to adjust on a game-by-game basis even though Calipari isn't going away from it.

If someone else is not playing well, they're going to be taken out," Calipari said. "If a unit is not playing well, I'll take them out. Every one of these kids had a chance. Now, if I had stuck with those first guys you never would've seen Trey, Devin, and Tyler do what they did. They all three played well today."

That wasn't the case for every Wildcat. Towns, for example, fouled out and scored just three points in 10 minutes of action, while Andrew and Aaron Harrison combined for 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting and one assist.

Those three figure to be among the players Coach Cal said he will summon for sit-downs before the Cats head to Indianapolis for an early-season marquee matchup with No. 5 Kansas. The conversations will be candid, with Calipari asking them to assess how they played and what they learned from it.

But unlike in prior seasons, the talks won't have as much urgency about them, not with the way Coach Cal's group is built.

"It's a great team for all these guys to just play hard," Calipari said. "Even if you don't play well, we're all right. Someone else will step in and be better the next game. Learn from it."

Air Force Senior Master Sergeant James A. Allegrezza was reunited with his wife and two children at Kentucky's game on Sunday. Allegrezza was born in Williamsport, Pa., and graduated from Woodford County High School in Versailles, Ky., in 1994. He enlisted in September 1995 as a Medical Services Apprentice.

Here's video of the reunion at Rupp Arena.


Video: Highlights from UK's win over Buffalo

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Video: Coach Cal's post-Buffalo press conference

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Live chat: Men's basketball vs. Buffalo

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Live Blog Men's basketball vs. Buffalo
 
Willie Cauley-Stein had 12 points, five rebounds and four blocks in UK's season-opening win over Grand Canyon on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein had 12 points, five rebounds and four blocks in UK's season-opening win over Grand Canyon on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari isn't known for his brevity, but it took him only nine words to sum up Kentucky's season opener.

"First half was good," Calipari said. "Second half was not good."

The first half saw UK suffocate Grand Canyon defensively and build a commanding 43-16 lead. The Wildcats (1-0) held the Antelopes (0-1) to 25 percent shooting and forced 13 turnovers. In the second half, Grand Canyon refused to back down, actually outscoring UK by two points through the first 13-plus minutes before the Cats finished strong for an 85-45 victory.

"I think the first half we played at a pretty good level," said Willie Cauley-Stein, who was all over the floor with 12 points, five rebounds, four blocks and two steals, 'and then the second half we kind of let go of the rope a little bit and didn't play as physical and as determined."

The physicality is what most caught Coach Cal's attention.

"The other thing that happened is it got physical and it became a little bit of a fight," Calipari said. "We had guys not be able to make plays. They walked, missed one footers when things got physical. That's going to be an issue for us."

On offense, the failure to respond to physicality manifested itself in post-ups that came too far away from the basket, which led to those misses from around the basket. With their depth, size and athleticism, the Cats were often able to grab their own misses, to the tune of 24 offensive rebounds and a 51-21 overall rebounding edge, but the issue remains.

On defense, UK struggled guarding dribble penetration after the break, which was clear within minutes. The second platoon of Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson, which held GCU scoreless in the first half, allowed six points on the first four possessions of the second half. Immediately, Coach Cal called for the first platoon to check back in.

"They came in, they scored too many buckets on us," Ulis said. "Like you said, we kept them to scoreless in the first half, but the second half we came out a little lazy. We got stuck on defense and they hit a couple (shots) on us. So he wanted to make an example and told us we would sit if we don't get stops."

It was the first of many lessons for the three freshmen on the second platoon. Minutes later, UK's fourth freshman, Karl-Anthony Towns, got a similar lesson when Coach Cal pulled him Johnson after a lapse of focus that led to a turnover.

Playing with a big lead, it turns out, isn't always easy.

"That's what we need to work on," Ulis said. "We have to come out still ready to fight. Just look at it as the score is zero to zero, just try to go out there and play and keep the pressure on."

Cauley-Stein is in his third year playing for Coach Cal and he's still working to put that message into action.

"It's tough," Cauley-Stein said. "And if you're young it makes it worse because you're not used to that. You're not used to playing at a level that Coach wants you to play at all the time. It just comes with the experience of playing the college-level game. As you get older, you realize what Coach is saying. It will just come."

The Cats experienced a measure of the adversity Coach Cal said they needed in that second half, which only figures to help as UK takes the floor again on Sunday at noon against Buffalo and then on Tuesday against No. 5 Kansas in the Champions Classic.

"They came out, they punched us in the mouth the second half, but we just have to keep going, learn from our mistakes and improve," Ulis said.

Cauley-Stein, however, says the real learning won't happen until later. He remembers last year's game against Michigan State well, when the Cats fell behind by double digits before the even scored a point.

"Once it gets harder, then dudes are going to find out that it's real, it's the whole game," Cauley-Stein said. "Especially if you come out flat and you get hit in the mouth first, it's rough. It's going to be a rough game after that. So you've got to come out and throw the first couple of blows and let them know you're here and you're going to find the rest of the game."

Even so, seeing what can happen when an opponent outmuscles them was a good learning experience for the Cats.

"It's good that it happened because we were able to talk about it and we'll show it on tape tomorrow," Calipari said.

And when you have a roster like Coach Cal does, you get to teach from the tape of a 40-point win.

Recent Comments

  • Berdj Rassam: Booker will be a key part of whether or not this team will be successful this season. read more
  • Tom Moore: Since Tubby 98 and 2003-2004 team which should've won it all, Kentucky fans ( I am true blue ) have read more
  • John Mylant: Kentucky verses Kansas I am a UK fan but bringing this into perspective, this was just one of those games. read more
  • Catherine: We have the Blue Platoon and the White Platoon, I say we should name the rest team "The Closers"! read more
  • Sandy: Great game. I couldn't take my eyes off in the second half. Proud of all of you. I thought Epps read more
  • Jeff Schrembs: I just wanted to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to the parents, guardians, relatives, etc. of each of the players. read more
  • D.K. West: I am sooooooo ready for the Big Blue. I loved the effort of last years squad, especially in the tournament read more
  • Nah: Please can we run more than 2-4 offensive plays? As a spectator, I'm seeing the team gain more ground in read more
  • Paige Keller: Congratulations for all of your hard work. You deserve this award. You guys work hard to provide use with a read more
  • larry: our first test will be kansas read more