Recap: No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats open season with 78-65 win over Albany

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It was an "on the one hand/on the other" type of night for No. 2 Kentucky.

On the one hand, the Wildcats opened the season with a solid 78-65 win over Albany, an NCAA Tournament team from last year that returned most of its roster.

On the other, there wasn't much about how UK went about beating the Great Danes that overly impressed head coach John Calipari.

"We just don't have the fight or the grit to really beat a good team," said Calipari, whose team turned the ball over 20 times and grabbed only six more rebounds than the much-smaller opponent. "Albany, if they make any shots -- I mean, any -- they beat us. They didn't make any shots now, and that's a good-shooting team that's well-coached."

Easier said than done, noted Albany coach Will Brown, whose team was held to 43 percent from the field and struggled royally (1-for-14) from beyond the 3-point arc.

"The one thing you can't do in preparing for Kentucky -- at least we can't -- is simulate their length and athleticism," he said. "I mean, (Derek) Willis is playing the small forward, and he's bigger than my center... You got a 6-10 small forward out there."

Willis was a surprise standout for the Cats, scoring all of his career-high 14 points in the first half to help give UK a comfortable 38-27 halftime lead. The junior forward also had five rebounds, three assists and two steals in a career-best performance.

Kentucky was led by freshman guard Jamal Murray, who scored 19 points, dished out eight assists and recorded three steals. Marcus Lee added 12 points, a team-high eight rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots.

Peter Hooley led Albany with 18 points while Evan Singletary added 17 for the Great Danes.

In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from UK's win...

KEY MOMENT:

Leading by nine early in the second half, Kentucky went on an 18-7 spurt to seize control of the game. Ulis began the run with a 3-pointer, while Murray and Lee combined for three dunks to bring what had been a subdued opening-night Rupp Arena crowd to its feet for the first time. Albany would get no closer than 12 the remainder of the game.

GAME BALL:

Willis continued his fine showing from UK's two exhibition games with an all-around performance that makes the Cats even deeper than expected going into the season. His emergence is one of the most pleasant surprises in recent memory. It would be one thing if he was just scoring a few points here and there, but he's doing the stat-stuffing things that Calipari loves and will reward handsomely if he can keep it up.

BY THE NUMBERS:

1st - Ever meeting between the Cats and Great Danes in basketball.

4 - Blocked shots for UK freshman center/forward Skal Labissiere in his college debut.

10 - Turnovers between Ulis and Murray, UK's primary ball-handlers.

17 - Age of UK freshman center Isaac Humphries, who became the youngest player to score a point for the Cats since Jamal Mashburn in 1990.

56% - Shooting from the field for UK (28 of 50).

102-4 - UK's record at Rupp Arena under Calipari.

QUOTABLE:

"I said it to everyone that I talked to before the game: Tyler Ulis is the best point guard in the country, Skal Labissiere will go 1 or 2 in the NBA Draft, and Jamal Murray is the best basketball player in the country. Nothing that happened tonight changes my mind." - Albany coach Will Brown.

UP NEXT: 

It's a quick, NBA-like turnaround for the Cats, who return to Rupp Arena on Saturday night to face New Jersey Institute of Technology. Tipoff was changed to 8 p.m. ET on the SEC Network Plus to accommodate the UK-Vanderbilt football game which kicks off at 4 p.m. ET.


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