In the earliest matchup between the two top-ranked teams in the history of the AP poll, the Wildcats' youthful mistakes may have proved to be the difference. The freshman-dominated UK squad committed 17 turnovers, missed 16 free throws and watched as the Spartans repeatedly beat them down the floor en route to a 21-2 advantage in fast-break points.
"This kind of tournament is great for college basketball. It's terrific for the teams," UK head coach John Calipari said. "It's just tough for a really young team. I knew we would start that way."
"They're gonna get a lot better," Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said of the Wildcats. "Give them credit, but I thought we played awfully well a lot of that game."
The duo also came up with the biggest sequence of the night after UK had battled back from a 15-point deficit to pull even at 66 with 4:41 remaining. Appling drained an uncontested 3-pointer from the right corner to end a 20-7 run by the Wildcats, and Harris stole a pass on UK's ensuing possession and converted it for a layup to deliver momentum back in the Spartans' favor.
Kentucky (2-1) got another monster performance from freshman forward Julius Randle, who scored 23 of his game-high 27 points in the second half to go along with 13 rebounds. But the Dallas native may have missed a block-out assignment on a Michigan State missed shot with five seconds remaining that was tipped in by the Spartans' Branden Dawson to effectively end the Wildcats' hopes of a remarkable comeback story.
Randle still earned the highest respect from Izzo, who said: "What I loved about him, he gritted his teeth, was onry and nasty, and he wanted to put them on his shoulders. For a freshman, that speaks volumes."
The Cats took pride in their effort, if not the execution.
"We learned a lot about our players," said UK sophomore forward Alex Poythress, who contributed seven points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots off the bench. "We learned who's fighting and who can keep it going. We learned when the going gets rough, who just keeps on playing."
Freshman wing James Young added 19 points for Kentucky, 15 of those coming in the first half to prevent the Wildcats from facing an even bigger deficit than the 44-32 one they faced at the break.
Kentucky held a commanding 44-32 advantage on the boards, a positive that Calipari said he'll try to stress to a team that was admittedly hurting in the locker room.
"I'd like to know the last time a Michigan State team was outrebounded by 12," he said. "Especially this team, which is a great rebounding team. So we kind of made up for our turnovers, which we created none, by rebounding the ball.
"But if you miss 16 free throws, you don't deserve to win the game. This should be a great free-throw shooting team, and we're not."
Added Izzo: "They beat us in what we do well, and I think we beat them in what they do well. We stopped the dribble-drive, I thought, for the most part."
Calipari predicted before the Cats left for the Windy City that they'd either celebrate a tough win or turn a loss into a valuable learning lesson.
"Our team, we're going to be fine," he said. "I've got four months to get this right. You had guys crying in there, which is a good thing... I want it to hurt like that."
* UK leads the all-time series 12-11, with Michigan State leading 3-2 in neutral sites.
* Randle is the first UK player to have three consecutive games with double-doubles since Nerlens Noel in February of 2013. He has now scored 72 points and grabbed 43 rebounds in his first three games.
* The Wildcats return to action at home on Sunday, Nov. 17, vs. Robert Morris. Tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET and will air live on CSS.