Kentucky Wildcats ready for first exhibition

In what should be a welcome respite from beating up on each other in some of the nation's most competitive practices, top-ranked Kentucky gets to test itself against an opponent on Sunday when the Wildcats play host to the University of Pikeville in a 7 p.m. ET exhibition game at Rupp Arena.

"Not really looking forward to it, UK assisstant coach Kenny Payne joked on Friday, "but it's on us. We're happy that we're playing against somebody else for a change. We've been going against each other for a while, and it's been grueling, so it will be fun to play against somebody else."

The Cats aren't expected to receive a major challenge from their in-state visitors, but the Bears will come to Rupp Arena with the NAIA No. 2 preseason national ranking, their highest in program history, and feature a higher skill level than some UK exhibition opponents of the past.

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Payne said he does not know who will be in the starting lineup for the Cats, but work continues to be done to fine-tune the platoon system that head coach John Calipari plans to use this season in order to get 10-12 players time on the court.

"We don't have a choice," Payne said. "We've got 12 really good players, and we've got to find time for all of them. They all deserve to play."

He did note, however, that sophomore point guard Andrew Harrison and sophomore center Dakari Johnson have been two of the more pleasant surprises for UK in practices leading up to the season.

"When I look at Dakari from last year to this year, body type, mobility, touch shooting the ball, he has made a big jump," Payne said. "Andrew has done everything it takes to run a program. He took the summer and changed his body. He's worked on his game. He's playing with extreme confidence."

Asked about how the staff goes about determining which players should be paired together, Payne said it's often more of a case of who should not be on the floor together. He cited forwards Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns, both versatile 4s on the offensive end, as one example; Towns and Johnson as another, for defensive reasons.

Added Payne: "It's important that the freshmen have a veteran leader on the floor with them to help them through tough times. That's really, really important."

Hear more of Payne's comments in greater detail in the video clip below:

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