Kentucky needed a late rally to overcome the upset-minded Lions, using a 22-7 run to stay unbeaten with 56-46 victory.
The Wildcats (10-0) fell behind 11-0 and stayed in catch-up mode until the 13:18 mark of the second half when reserve forward Derek Willis grabbed an offensive rebound and made two free throws to give UK its first lead of the night at 36-34. Columbia made only three baskets against the nation’s stingiest defense over the next 12 minutes of play.
"I thought it was a really good, hard-fought basketball game," Columbia coach Kyle Smith said. "We competed against a very athletic, talented team. We applauded our guys for the effort they gave. Didn’t quite execute on keeping them off the glass, which is everyone’s No. 1 priority when they come in here, trying to fend off the waves of guys coming at you. It just kind of wore us down."
Kentucky held a 41-28 advantage on the boards, including 21 offensive rebounds leading to 15 second-chance points on a lackluster shooting night for the Cats.
Columbia (5-3) became the 10th straight opponent to shoot under 40 percent against UK to start the season. Nine of the Cats’ 10 opponents have tallied their season-low in points against John Calipari’s squad. The Lions flirted with topping the 40-percent mark for most of Wednesday’s game, but finished at 37.5 (18 of 48).
Kentucky was led by sophomore guard Aaron Harrison with 14 points and junior center Willie Cauley-Stein’s double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. Trey Lyles added seven points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots in what Calipari called a “really good” effort by the freshman forward.
Maodo Lo led Columbia with 16 points, seven rebounds and three steals.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the day's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: Kentucky bricked its way to 36.7 percent shooting from the field and played without freshmen Tyler Ulis (illness) and Devin Booker (knee), but still found a way to win by double digits. Calipari says he’s not concerned about early shooting woes as long as the Cats keep giving a consistent effort on defense.
KEY MOMENT: With the Rupp Crowd sensing it was time for the Cats to finally overtake the Lions, Willie Cauley-Stein rose to the occasion with a monster blocked shot of a drive by Lo. The fans roared, and UK took the lead on the ensuing offensive possession.
STAT OF THE DAY: Kentucky had 21 offensive rebounds, reclaiming an impressive 55 percent of its missed shots on the night. Cauley-Stein had five offensive rebounds, while Lyles grabbed four.
QUOTABLE: "You got to give Columbia credit. They came in, they were not afraid. They played Michigan State (last season) the same way they just did us, up at Michigan State. And they knew they could do this. Kyle did a good job of spreading us out. But you saw more energy in the second half.” – UK coach John Calipari.
UP NEXT: Kentucky returns to action Saturday at Rupp Arena against North Carolina in a noon ET tipoff on CBS. The No. 21 Tar Heels (6-2) defeated East Carolina 108-64 on Sunday behind 19 points and 17 rebounds from Brice Johnson.