Miles College went into Friday night’s exhibition game against Kentucky understanding what UK desired.
“We know the assignment,” Miles College Coach Fred Watson said earlier in the week. “Our job is to be as competitive as possible to get him ready for Duke. We’re going to compete and play hard. What we want to get out of the game is to make sure we’re competing, executing, defending, making tough shots.”
Mission accomplished, especially in the first half.
Kentucky seemingly took Miles College’s best shot, literally as well as figuratively, in the first half. The Golden Bears put UK on its heels with a three-point blitz.
But Kentucky took charge in the second half and won 80-71. UK outscored Miles College 41-25 after the break.
This surely did not surprise Watson, either.
“Those guys are pros,” he had said. “So, we know they’re going to make shots.”
Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington led a balanced UK scoring attack this time with 15 points each. Kellan Grady scored 13 points. Jacob Toppin, who made his first public playing appearance, added 12 points..
Kentucky’s first exhibition game had left John Calipari lamenting subpar interior defense.
Never mind interior defense against Miles College. Kentucky’s exterior defense was wanting.
The Golden Bears made 11 of 15 three-point shots in the first half. That put Kentucky behind 46-39 at halftime. It also put Miles College on pace to set a Rupp Arena record for threes by a visiting team: 19 by VMI on Nov. 18, 2018.
Kentucky led for only 23 seconds of the first half. That solitary lead was 2-0 on the game’s first basket.
Miles College made its first five shots — all three-pointers.
Twice Calipari called timeouts trying to change the game’s momentum. Yet Miles College made eight of its first 10 three-point shots. That helped the visitors hold a lead for all but 71 seconds of the first half.
The threes nullified UK”s 16-8 advantage in points from the paint against an opponent that started only one player taller than 6-foot-5.
Kentucky also had more turnovers (eight) than assists (seven) in the first half.
The second half surely began the way most — if not all — Kentucky fans expected the game to begin.
UK scored the first eight points. Wheeler scored six of those, including a straight-line drive that put the Cats ahead 47-46 with 17:14 left. That marked UK’s first lead since 2-0.
Besides the points, Wheeler also keyed Kentucky’s revived perimeter defense. His pestered the Miles College point guard, most memorably when he attempted a steal on the opponent’s left hand, then spun around the got the ball on the right side. He converted with a driving layup that put UK ahead — finally — at 47-46.
By the first television timeout, Kentucky had outscored Miles College 14-2.
Miles College missed its first six shots: four field goals (two from three-point range) and two free throws.
With barely more than eight minutes left, Miles College had missed 12 of its first 14 shots of the second half. That included missing all nine attempts from three-point range.
That feast followed by famine enabled Kentucky to twice take 13-point leads midway through the second half.
With Wheeler impacting both ends of the floor, Kentucky led the final 16:09.
The third of Dontaie Allen’s three second-half three-pointers was followed by a Kellan Grady three that gave UK its largest lead: 77-61 with 2:19 left.
Three seconds later, Miles College called timeout, presumably to try to properly punctuate a competitive performance.
Mission accomplished. Trailing 78-62, Miles College made three straight three-pointers after missing 11 of its earlier 12 second-half attempts from beyond the arc.
That narrowed UK’s lead to 78-71.