Notes on UK’s 2-0 start

Jamie H. Vaught/The Sports Zone

November 11, 2013

LEXINGTON — Some random notes and thoughts about UK basketball after two season-opening victories at Rupp Arena:

— Ex-Wildcat DeMarcus Cousins tweeted last summer that Kentucky rookie Julius Randle is a beast.

The current NBA standout is certainly right about 6-9, 250-pound Randle, who has posted a double-double in UK’s wins over UNC Asheville and Northern Kentucky, going into Tuesday night’s ESPN showdown with Michigan State.

Randle, who was just named the SEC Player of the Week on Monday, has scored 45 points in two games, more than any other Wildcat freshman in his first two games under coach John Calipari. The previous high was John Wall, who totaled 40 in his first two contests in 2009.

Against Northern Kentucky last Sunday afternoon, Randle had game-highs 22 points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes of action along with three assists.

But Calipari said that Randle, a McDonald’s All-American, could have done more with his potential.

“He should be averaging 20 rebounds a game right now I would say,” said the coach.

Randle said he tries to make Calipari happy with his performance.

“I’ll try to,” said the freshman forward from Dallas. “If I make 20 points, he is going to ask for 25. I am just out there trying my best and trying to get better.”

— As a backup, sophomore Alex Poythress has been impressive with his solid performance in the first two games of the season.

Against Asheville Friday night, the 6-8 forward from Clarksville, Tenn., had a double-double with 10 points and career-high 13 rebounds in only 21 minutes. Against Northern Kentucky, Poythress posted nine points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes.

And Calipari was very happy that Poythress had a near-flawless effort in both matchups.

“(He was) great again,” said the coach. “He’s right now building his own confidence. He’s building his own self-esteem. You know why? He’s not trying to do stuff he can’t do. You know how many turnovers he had today again? Zero. He had no turnovers again.

“So now he knows. I’m telling him, if you’re open, shoot it. If you have a one dribble pull-up, shoot it. If you’re around the goal, try to get it in. Do not try to make plays; you turn it over, so don’t do it. Do what you do well.”

Poythress, who started 31 of 33 games last year, has not been in the starting lineup this young season so far.

— Freshman point guard Andrew Harrison, who sat out UK’s two exhibition contests with a bruised knee, was asked if he thinks his team is playing hard enough for Calipari.

“I think us, as players, we always feel like we are playing hard, but the (video) tape never lies,” said Harrison, who hit 13 points against the Norse. “When he (Calipari) shows us that, it definitely looks different. We all see it.”

— That talk of a 40-0 season by UK is ridiculous. It’s going to be nearly impossible for Kentucky to finish the 2013-14 campaign unbeaten. The talented Cats are way too young and several of their more-experienced opponents will give them a good fight. Some of the tougher foes on schedule include Michigan State, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida, Tennessee and LSU.

If the Wildcats go all the way to the AT&T Stadium in Dallas in April, look for them to come up with a remarkable record of 36-4. Sounds pretty good to me, huh?

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Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at jamiehv22@gmail.com.