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"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.
That's why he's saying things like this.
"We need adversity so bad," Calipari said. "We need to get hit in the mouth as soon as we can."
If you didn't know any better, you might think John Calipari is rooting against his own team.
"We need to be down 10, and let's figure out what we are," Calipari said.
On the eve of Kentucky's season opener, it's just a matter of time before he gets his wish.
UK opens its much-anticipated 2014-15 campaign at 8 p.m. on Friday night against Grand Canyon, a second-year Division-I program led by three-time NBA All Star Dan Majerle. The Wildcats are in the final hours of a unique offseason that's featured some surprise decisions to bypass the NBA Draft, a six-game Big Blue Bahamas tour and intrigue surrounding UK's platoon system.
That's all led to a No. 1 preseason ranking and unmatched hype (at least since last season), neither of which changes the task UK is facing.
"This thing is going to take time and it's going to be a process just like last year's team," Calipari said. "It can be all the hype we want. Won't matter. Gotta do it on the court."
Though there's no doubt doing it on the court in a game that counts is different, it's not as if this UK team is completely untested. There were the aforementioned Bahamas games and, perhaps even more notably, Kentucky's practices.
Talk of UK's roster featuring two teams that might each be ranked in the top 25 has been common all offseason, culminating in Calipari mentor and SMU head coach Larry Brown saying Thursday he believed the Cats' platoons would be No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls. That, like much of what's been said about Kentucky, is likely hyperbole, but the sentiment behind it is significant nonetheless.
With 12 talented players, every time UK gathers at the Joe Craft Center, it's a battle.
"Oh real competitive, you know always going against somebody at your position at all times," Poythress said. "Even in drills it's competitive."
One drill especially.
"We have a drill called the 'Perfect Stop,' " Lee said. "Once Coach Cal calls 'Perfect Stop,' it's probably the best part of practice because we're trying to kill each other. It's probably the most fun, but it's the most work we do during practice."
It's a five-on-five drill in the half-court that Alex Poythress called a "pride thing." The defense's task is simple, though far from easy: prevent the offense from scoring or getting into the lane for the entirety of the 35-second shot clock.
"It's probably the noisiest point of our practice because we're yelling, we're screaming, we're talking because you only have so much time to try to talk with your team to get things done," Lee said.
The drill has been prominently featured in the last few days of practice leading up to the opener, which Coach Cal called "ultra-competitive" after he ratcheted up the heat another couple notches.
"Our wins and losses matter here," Lee said. "We gotta run every time we lose, so it means a lot to win or lose no matter who you're playing right now."
Running is one thing, but it's a little different when permanent tallies go in the win-loss column. The Cats, however, are eager.
For most, season openers come with plenty of butterflies. At Kentucky, the chance to play meaningful games again actually may represent a reprieve.
At long last, talking season is over.
"It's definitely very relaxing knowing that we are finally here at the start of the season," Marcus Lee said. "It's something that we've all been looking forward to since the end of last season. So for it to finally be here is kind of a good feeling."