Quick Hitters: UK vs. Puerto Rico

A few takeaways from Kentucky’s 74-49 exhibition win over the Puerto Rico National Team Reserves on Sunday in the Wildcats’ Big Blue Bahamas opening game:

Alex Poythress appears to have picked up right where he left off at the end of last season. The junior forward seemed to be as comfortable as ever in the first game, running the floor, crashing the boards and playing above the rim in the fashion UK head coach John Calipari has always pushed him to play. He finished with 10 points, six rebounds and one blocked shot on the (highly questionable) official stats, but probably had two or three more rebounds and a couple more blocked shots. If he keeps playing like that, it’s going to be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup, despite an amazingly-deep frontcourt.

• You could tell the talk about the Harrison twins’ improved bodies was not just lip service. Both Andrew and Aaron were moving noticeably better on both ends of the floor, especially on defense, where they needed the most attention. Aaron looked pretty explosive on the offensive end, jamming in a couple of drives that he would have likely tried to lay in as a freshman. He finished with a team-high 15 points… and barely broke a sweat in doing it.

• Freshman point guard Tyler Ulis is going to play. A lot. As ESPN’s Jay Bilas said during the broadcast, Ulis is “a 5-foot-9 ball of incentive for bigs guys to run the floor hard.” Line of the day. The little general showed glimpses of his playmaking ability against Puerto Rico, feeding UK’s bigs for easy baskets and dunks on his way to a team-high five assists. He was also extremely disruptive on defense, a “pest,” as his teammates have described him in early practice sessions. Could we possibly see some combinations (even a starting lineup) this season that features Ulis at the 1 with the twins at the wings? That, of course, would make the frontcourt rotation a little trickier. But, hey, it’s a nice “problem” to have.

• Freshman center/forward Karl Towns displayed glimpses of his complete game. Whether it using his soft touch on the baby hook or throwing down a two-handed jam, Towns put his nice scoring abilities on display with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting. He didn’t get either of his 3-point attempts to drop, but that’s something UK fans can expect to see out of him as well as the season progresses. Towns’ passing skills may have been even more impressive, whether it was finding Ulis on quick outlet passes to spark the break or throwing a lob to Derek Willis for a dunk. He’s an extremely skilled “Euro style” big man.

• Remember, this team didn’t even have two of its better players today in the form of injured Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles. Scary thought. Not only for opponents, but for Coach Cal as his customary seven- to eight-man player rotations are going to be severely tested this season. I can’t see any way that Cal uses less than 10 players this season.

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