Top-ranked Kentucky blasts Robert Morris, 87-49
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)
Kentucky rolled out an all-freshman lineup for the first time in program history, pleasing a fervent fan base eager to see how the school's best-ever recruiting class looked together.
Sunday night revealed little to draw from the various combinations used by coach John Calipari, but it showed that newcomer Aaron Harrison is capable of carrying the load.
Harrison scored 19 of his 28 points in the first half to get No. 1 Kentucky rolling toward an 87-49 victory over Robert Morris.
After three games of starting four freshmen around sophomore 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, Calipari rolled out a rookie lineup of Harrison and twin brother Andrew, James Young, Marcus Lee and Julius Randle. That look lasted just 51 seconds as Cauley-Stein replaced Lee, but the Wildcats (3-1) used other combinations of highly touted recruits.
Harrison ended up grabbing the spotlight instead of leading scorer Randle, shooting 7 of 12 from the field and making all 10 free throws. He also had four rebounds and three assists.
The career-best performance comes five days after Harrison made just 1-for-7 from the floor in a 78-74 loss to No. 2 Michigan State.
''I learned individually that even when my shots aren't falling, I have to keep playing and find a way to help my teammates,'' Harrison said.
Randle added 10 points and 15 rebounds and Young had 10 points in the rematch of last spring's NIT game won by Robert Morris.
The game quickly turned into a mismatch as the bigger, faster, Wildcats jumped out to a 17-2 lead and led by as 40 points. Kentucky shot 28 of 57 from the field (49 percent), outrebounded the Colonials 56-33 and dominated the inside 36-16.
Cauley-Stein finished with a career-high 13 rebounds, and Andrew Harrison had eight points and eight rebounds as Kentucky used 13 players in Calipari's quest to find working combinations.
''I'm happy that we defended the way we did, rebounded the way we did,'' Calipari said. ''I was real happy for Aaron, but Aaron has worked hard in practice and it carried over.''
Karvel Anderson's 16 points led Robert Morris (2-2), which shot just 16 of 69 (23 percent).
The game itself was intriguing with the Wildcats facing the team that ousted them from the NIT with a 59-57 NIT loss outside Pittsburgh in March, sparking Colonials fans to storm the small home court in celebration.
In many ways that contest typified Kentucky's disappointing and inconsistent season with a four-man group including big man Nerlens Noel - whose season-ending knee injury hastened the downfall - and guard Archie Noel. Both are now gone to the NBA.
Calipari hasn't watched the tape of that game, but the lingering memory of the loss stayed with veterans such as Jon Hood up until practice. As for this year's eight-man crop of talented newcomers, they were trying to get over Tuesday's 78-74 loss to No. 2 Michigan State in Chicago.
On both counts, the Wildcats succeeded quite easily.
Kentucky faced a Robert Morris lineup featuring three returning starters from that game plus leading scorer Karvel Anderson, but the Colonials played nothing like last spring's upset-minded squad. They started 1 of 10 from the field, and that first basket came on Aaron Tate's jumper at the 11:36 mark.
''There were certain possessions where we did a very good job and went for open shots that we didn't make in the beginning of the game,'' Colonials coach Andrew Toole said. ''I think that hurt our spirits a little bit. We needed to make some shots early to continue to keep it close, and we did not do that.''
By then the Wildcats were up 17-4 and rolling toward a 44-20 halftime lead built on Aaron Harrison's hot start including 4-of-8 shooting and eight free throws. Everybody else was 9 of 22 as Kentucky shot just 43 percent and committed 10 turnovers, none of which mattered because the Colonials were just 6 of 30 (20 percent).
What pleased Calipari was his team's 29-14 rebounding advantage including a 12-8 edge offensively. Cauley-Stein had 10 and Randle eight, just what the coach wanted to see.
Then again, Kentucky had something to prove, none of which involved getting revenge against Robert Morris. Though the sting of Tuesday's loss subsided, the disappointment was something the Wildcats didn't want to feel again and thoroughly proved that against Robert Morris.
''It was a good game for us because the one thing we're not doing is competing at the level of the other teams,'' Calipari said. ''We want to play harder than the other team, and I thought there were times that we did that today against a team that really competes.''