Newcomers shine in debut as Cats soar past Eagles in opener

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky unveiled a revamped roster and the final result was typical of past season openers under John Calipari.

 

Freshman BJ Boston scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the No. 10 Wildcats to an 81-45 victory over Morehead State in the first game of the three-day Bluegrass Showcase Wednesday night at Rupp Arena. Calipari improved to 12-0  in home openers entering his 12th season with the Wildcats.

 

“We looked like an organized basketball team,” Calipari said. “Ten guys who have never played together, never played for me … we went three days of torture (in practice), yet they came out (and played well).”

 

Aside from a new roster stocked with newcomers and transfers, Calipari’s squad began the season in a near-empty arena at 15 percent capacity and team benches scattered six-feet apart and fans scattered throughout the upper and lower deck to adhere to the current capacity guidelines set by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and other state officials.

 

“Today was pretty fun,” Calipari said. “We came in (Tuesday) and saw all of the (cardboard cutouts) with people’s faces on them, the players went nuts. … they went up (in the stands) and sat with them. It was a great idea by our university.”

 

Three days prior to the opener, Calipari wasn't as giddy and expressed concern about his team, but a team meeting helped the players regroup ahead of the opener against the Eagles.

 

“We were ready to play and that’s one of the main things we said as a team,” freshman Terrence Clarke said. “We locked in as a team (after the scrimmage), told each other we have our backs. We just went out and played hard today and that’s one of the main things that we had to do. … Everybody was anxious and ready to play.”

 

Overall, 10 players made their debut for the Wildcats, while Kentucky’s lone returnee from last season — Keion Brooks — sat out as he recovers from a knee injury he sustained in preseason workouts. Zan Payne, son of former Kentucky associate coach Kenny Payne, also made his debut late in the contest as Calipari cleared his bench in the decisive blowout.

 

Devin Askew and Clarke followed Boston with 12 points each and veteran Davion Mintz added 10 off the bench for the Wildcats. Former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Dontaie Allen saw his first action in nearly two years and finished with four points, including a 3-pointer on his first attempt from the floor in the first half.

 

“Dontaie did fine,” Calipari said. “He’s just behind some other players (and) he’s going to get his chance.”

 

Isaiah Jackson just missed double figures with nine points. He tallied seven of Kentucky’s first 12 points. Jackson tweaked his ankle late in the contest, but Calipari wasn’t concerned about his status in moving forward. Another freshman — Cam’ron Fletcher — added nine points and grabbed five rebounds, drawing praise from Calipari.

 

“I love the (play of) Cam today because he just plays hard,” Calipari said.

 

Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin, a former assistant director of basketball operations under Calipari at Kentucky, made his second appearance as coach of the Eagles at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats dealt the Eagles a 92-67 setback in an exhibition game.

 

Johni Broome and Julius Dixon led the Eagles with 11 points each, followed by James Baker with 10.

 

GAMETRACKER: Kentucky vs. Richmond, 1 p.m., Sunday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.

 

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or Twitter @keithtaylor21

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