Towns' Double-Double Lifts Men's Basketball to 81-58 Win
Aug. 11, 2014
By Eric Lindsey, CoachCal.com
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Hoping to evaluate instead of coach, John Calipari walked from the Kentucky bench, across the court and to the top row at Kendal G.L. Isaacs Gymnasium to watch Monday's exhibition game in the Bahamas.
He had to have liked what he saw.
Kentucky got pushed around early by a veteran team of professionals, fell behind by eight points, and then answered the bell with an impressive 12-0 first-half run from its unit of "backups" and a dominant second-half performance that ultimately led to an 81-58 rout of Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket on Monday.
The Cats, after leading by five at halftime, quickly built their lead to double digits and never looked back. At one point UK led a team that features four players with NBA experience by 29 points.
Not bad for a group that played without its head coach, who sat in the stands Monday to watch and take notes and at one point in the second half operated ESPNU's center-court camera for its national broadcast.
"At the end of the day these kids did it and it had nothing to do with coaching," said assistant Kenny Payne, who served as UK's head coach for the game on Monday. "We have a whole bunch of very talented young men who play great together and love each other and they're learning about each other. It makes our job a lot easier."
Their job, from the standpoint of managing expectations, is about to get a whole lot harder if the early performances in the Bahamas keep up.
Kentucky routed a French professional team that was big, athletic and supposedly superior to the Puerto Rican national team reserves UK thwarted by 25 on Sunday. But after failing to match Champagne's physicality in the opening minutes of the game, UK's second unit ripped off 12 straight points midway through the second half and dominated the rest of the way.
The first-half run was highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers from Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins, two reserves last season who are perceived to be at the end of UK's two-platoon rotation.
"That's a big part of what everybody's role is on this team, one through 12, 13 ... is that when you step on that floor, there is no garbage time," Payne said. "So when you're on that floor, you have to play with confidence and you are to play well. If you make mistakes, you're making them with confidence. That's the key."
If UK's supposed end-of-the-rotation guys are keying runs that knock out professional teams, just how good is this group? On a trip that was billed as a study abroad trip - a tour of games that is supposed to help the Cats learn about themselves and learn how to compete - everyone else is quickly learning that this team might be worth the hype.
At the very least, it appears to be much further along at this time of the year than last season's team, which started the year with 40-0 expectations, disappointed in the regular season, but then made the national championship game.
"They're a really big team," said Champagne forward Da'Sean Butler, who was a star on the 2010 West Virginia team that got a firsthand look at one of Calipari's most talented teams at UK and knocked it out of the NCAA Tournament. "I heard (Jay) Bilas had them picked to win (the national title). I might have to jump on the bandwagon. They're a really good team, man."
Butler was impressed with the younger team's ability to respond to an early eight-point deficit, step on a much older team's throat and not let it off the mat.
"They just kept punching," Butler said. "... If they can keep us down like that, I'm pretty sure they can keep some good teams down too."
Payne thought the Cats needed to get punch in the mouth so they and the coaching staff could see how they would respond to adversity. It is, after all, a trip to learn.
"The telling thing was that after they hit us, we made adjustments," Payne said. "We played more physical. We dictated the pace of the game. And we're not just dictating the pace with grown men; you're dictating the pace with grown men that play this game for money. That's a great sign. That should build confidence in them and in each other and individually because that's what it's going to take to win."
Aaron Harrison started the adjustments.
Trailing 20-12, Harrison came up with a steal, got in transition and posterized a challenging defender with a one-hand slam. That dunk paved the way for the second platoon's game-changing run.
"I thought (that play) was pivotal," Payne said. "I thought the biggest part of that was the transition into what are we. Are we going to be a soft defensive team or are we going to be a in-your-face, aggressive, dictate-the-pace, get-in-the-passing-lanes (type team)? We don't care who you are; we're getting after it. And he made that play, which ignited everything for us."
Karl-Anthony Towns took Kentucky's five-point halftime lead and built on it with a dominant second half. The 6-foot-11 freshman forward, drawing on some of his experience with the Dominican Republic national team, went head to head with grown men, some a decade older than him, and recorded a double-double (19 points and 10 rebounds).
Towns experience mixed results after a good but not great game Sunday in which he roamed the perimeter a bit too much. Towns said he got off to a rough start again Monday, but he got his game on track when he went inside and went to a power game.
"I think that my size sometimes deceives people, but at the end of the day, I have to do what's best for the team, and today, for me, the best thing I could do for the team was give them an inside presence," Towns said.
Payne called Towns' performance on the glass "unbelievable," but he said the coaching staff is not satisfied because of Towns' tendency to want to be a perimeter big man.
"In order for him to be the best player in the country, in order for him to be a professional, in order for him to dominate college basketball, it has to start from the inside-out," Payne said.
Towns could take a page out of Alex Poythress' book, who strung together his second straight solid performance with 16 points and eight rebounds.
"He came back to school to prove to the world I'm one of the best forwards in the country," Payne said of Poythress. "You see his athleticism. (He) is one of the most athletic forwards in the country. Now mentally he has to put together the fight, the determination to go out and prove to people how good he is because some people still question because they see the inconsistencies. Me personally, I think he's going to have a phenomenal year. That's why he's here. That's why he came back."
Kentucky employed a two-platoon system again and wore the French team down in the second half.
"(They're) deep, man," Butler said. "You see us today. You sub out five and your next five is just as strong as your first five, it's good things coming your way. Very good things."
When Calipari returns to the bench and adds Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles to the mix, it will be up to him to figure out if the two rotations are feasible.
"That's why you pay John Calipari a whole bunch of money," Payne said. "He'll figure it out."