Going into a weekend that featured two season-opening games in less than 48 hours, the Kentucky coach wanted to see his top-ranked Wildcats “hit in the mouth” in order to gauge their response.
Bobby Hurley’s Buffalo squad did just that Sunday at Rupp Arena, taking a 38-33 lead into the half against the talent-rich Cats. A different Kentucky emerged in the second half, though, holding the Bulls to just 14 points on 4-for-19 shooting from the field the rest of the way en route to a 71-52 victory.
“I told the team at halftime, ‘You know what, I’m happy this happened,’” Calipari said. “And if you don’t start playing, you’re going to lose, and I’ll even be happy about that because you need to get hit in the head and start understanding what you have to be.
"This was a big-time game for us. We needed this. We needed a team that could beat us off the dribble, that wasn't afraid, that played physical, that had an inside presence."
Kentucky (2-0) shot just 41 percent from the floor, but used its massive size advantage to outrebound Buffalo by a 45-25 margin. Twelve of those came from sophomore center Dakari Johnson, who also filled his stat line with nine points, three assists and four blocked shots.
Freshman forward Trey Lyles and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also sparks for UK, scoring 12 points apiece and spear-heading the Cats’ defensive turnaround in the second half. Ulis also had a team-high six assists.
Buffalo (1-1) got 16 points from guard Jarryn Skeete, who went 4-for-4 from behind the 3-point arc in the first half to give the Bulls a five-point edge at the break.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the day's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: Kentucky really did not play very well Sunday and still found a way to win by 19 points against a solid, well-coached opponent playing with attitude and purpose. That’s a testament to things that don’t tend to slump: size, defense, rebounding. Even on days when Aaron Harrison goes 2-for-9 from the floor and Karl-Anthony Towns fouls out with three points to his credit, the Cats can find a way to win comfortably.
KEY MOMENT: Platoon 2 started the second half for UK and instantly provided the energy and intensity that was lacking at times in the first half. In one sequence, Lyles hit a 3-pointer, made a steal off the press, finished that play with a thunderous, one-handed dunk, and helped force a 5-second call on the ensuing in-bounds pass. That set the tone for the come-from-behind victory.
STAT OF THE DAY: The Cats’ top four plus/minus leaders on the day are all members of Platoon 2: Johnson (+18), Booker (+18), Ulis (+15), Lyles (+15). .
QUOTABLE: "I know all our fans are like ‘You can’t…’ ‘We’re losing games…’ Well, there’s going to be some Ls the way we’re trying to do this. It’s going to be a while until they get it… It’s what we’re going to be for a while." – UK coach John Calipari
UP NEXT: Kentucky heads to Indianapolis to face No. 5 Kansas (1-0) in the State Farm Champions Classic. The Jayhawks defeated UC Santa Barbara 69-59 in their season opener as one-time UK recruit Perry Ellis scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.