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November 8, 2013

No. 1 UK routs Asheville in foul-filled affair

It began not with a whimper, but a bang.

And a hold and a grab and a slap.

Top-ranked Kentucky opened lifted the curtain on a season of promise Friday night, pulling away to beat UNC Asheville 89-57 at Rupp Arena.

It was a game notable for its fouls -- 52 of them between the two teams -- and one John Calipari saw as just fair.

"I mean, we just stopped over and over," Calipari said afterward.

His Wildcats paused during defensive possessions. They didn't pass the ball as much as Calipari wanted. They made free throws and lob passes seem like basketball's most challenging plays.

"Now let me say this," Calipari said. "Their first college game."

That was true for eight of the Cats, including Julius Randle, who led Kentucky with 23 points and 15 rebounds, two points shy of Terrence Jones and two rebounds short of Sam Bowie for the most ever by a UK freshman in his debut.

Calipari thought Randle could have done more.

He thought that of a lot of his players.

"Cal's never pleased with anything other than greatness," said freshman Marcus Lee, who scored 17 points off the bench. "We all know that we can do a whole lot better. We have to find a way to get that out of ourselves."

The Cats weren't great. At times they weren't even good.

And yet even with ugly free-throw shooting (30 of 48, including 17 of 31 in the first half) and a sloppy start (Asheville led as late as the 12:01 mark of the first half), Kentucky controlled the game and flirted with 90 points.

Good. Not good enough for Calipari.

Kentucky had only seven turnovers, that was in part, Calipari said, because "if you're never throwing the ball and you're just taking it and shooting it, it's hard to turn it over."

Afterward, Randle said, Calipari talked to his team about ball movement "a lot."

"I don't think they're selfish in any way," Calipari said. "I just think they've always played this way. If I get it, I try to take my man. If I've got to go three bounces, I'm going to try to do that. That's done. You can't play that way in a good college game."

That habit can be hard to break.

"We're used to having to do stuff on our own," said Randle, who led UK with 12 field-goal attempts and 13 free-throw attempts. "You kinda got to take a step back and realize we got so many guys who can help us out."

That wasn't always the case for Kentucky's stars a year ago in high school.

"We got a lot of freshmen who in high school, they were the best player on the team," said forward Alex Poythress, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds. "So they get the ball, they can tap (the ball) a little bit, get past a defender, play with the ball a little bit. Here, we're playing college, it's a different game. Defenses are so much quicker and react faster. So they can't do that. You got to pass and cut more. You got to be able to react to the defense."

It's a matter, Poythress said, of understanding that the game has sped up.

"And they'll figure it out," he said. "It's their first game. They'll get used to it. It's college basketball."

That's not the only adjustment Kentucky has to make.

Friday's opener was evidence that NCAA officials are serious about rules changes and points of emphasis designed to restrict physical play. The two teams combined for 52 fouls and 69 free-throw attempts.

"I think as the season goes on, everybody will adjust to it," Randle said. "I think something similar happened like that in the NBA where it was a lot of fouls called early in the season, but the players adjusted to it, I think. I think it'll be all right."

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