Wildcats Dominant in Final Exhibition vs. Georgetown
To say Chris Briggs showered Kentucky with praise would be an understatement. It was more like a downpour.
The Wildcats had just dismantled Briggs' Georgetown College team in an exhibition, and he couldn't help but express his wonder.
"We had the same problems that the rest of the country probably will have the rest of this year," Briggs said. "Those guys are unreal. I told the guys in the locker room, they could have beaten some NBA teams tonight, there's no question in my mind."
There were no NBA teams in Rupp Arena on Sunday night, so the Cats had to settle for a 121-52 win over perennial NAIA power Georgetown. UK was every bit as dominant as it was in its first exhibition win over Pikeville, with Aaron Harrison leading seven double-figure scorers with 17 points. Harrison shot 5 of 7 from 3-point range and the Cats 12 of 27 as a team.
The Cats shot 46 of 72 (63.9 percent) from the field and had 32 assists, rendering Georgetown's short-lived 2-0 lead to start game a distant memory. UK's defense stifled the Tigers to the tune of 27.9-percent shooting, nine blocks and nine steals.
"We played really well," Harrison said. "We came out a little slow, but we picked it up and got going. It was fun."
The 21,490 fans in attendance surely agreed, what with the dunk show Willie Cauley-Stein highlighted with a hand-behind-the-head pose for two of his 12 points. Of course, Cauley-Stein channeling Hall of Famer Karl Malone wasn't the last time the NBA would be invoked.
Briggs, even though he felt a little guilty adding fuel to UK's hype machine, even went on to say he had a hard time imagining how the Cats will lose this season. A season removed from 40-0 expectations defining his team before an NCAA Tournament run, John Calipari made sure to distance himself from the talk.
"Coach, did you do that to me?" Calipari said. "So he also said we're going to have 40 wins and win by 25, right? No, this will be a process. We're going to hit some bumps in the road."
Though the ride was smooth on Sunday, the Cats don't need to be told the regular season - which begins on Friday against Grand Canyon - will bring challenges.
"We know that the opponent is a little small and at some point we're going to play against bigger people and bigger size," Dakari Johnson said. "But we do have 12 people that can play at that high level, so I think it's for our benefit."
Few players are benefiting from UK's two-platoon system more than Johnson.
The sophomore had 12 points and 10 rebounds, needing just 17 minutes to tally a double-double. Even though he's in the best shape of his life after adopting a new training regimen and diet in the offseason and his playing time is limited to four-minute spurts, Johnson is still finding ways to tire himself out on the court.
That's the idea.
"He was exhausted in the last time out," Calipari said. "He grabbed his shorts was breathing so hard. I told the guys, 'Look at him, that's what you all should feel like walking off this court.' A friend of mine watched our game last week and said, 'As soon as your guys realize they can play even harder than they're playing it becomes scary. It becomes scary.' "
The platoon system might mean the Cats won't put up the same gaudy individual numbers they otherwise would, but they're having no trouble adjusting to this point.
"Not anybody in the country has as many guys that deserve to play and can play at a high level like us," Johnson said. "It's just--once the other team gets fatigued, it's tough. And once we keep on getting fresh and keep on going in, we can have a lot of fun with it."
They already seem to be having plenty of fun, evidenced by the fact that they spend a bulk of their time on the bench not sitting at all.
"The team, we're just together," Johnson said. "We like to have fun and we just cheer on our teammates. If they make a great play, we're going to let them know that they made a great play. It just feels like--on the court and off the court, we're more together."
That togetherness, Coach Cal says, is why he's comfortable trying something few coaches ever have in using the platoon system.
"I just went on TV and I said the only reason this will work is because the players are allowing it to work," Calipari said. "And that means you've got kids with high character. You have kids who care about one another, that trust each other. Basically trust what we're doing here that we got their back."
That trust will be tested throughout the season, as well as the system Coach Cal is using. He said on Sunday he would evaluate the platoons after 10 or 12 games, stating plainly that the approach is not set in stone.
"They're going to be a game or two we're going to lose and you're going to look at me and say what, and I'm going to say it's about these kids, I'll figure it out, I'm not doing it yet," Calipari said. "And this is going to play out. It may be a tweak. It may be more than that. We'll figure it out."
The players know they have work ahead of them too, but that doesn't mean they're not confident.
"We're just a really good team and a lot of talent," Harrison said. "I think if we continue to work together and play together, I think we can do really well this year."