John Calipari said his Kentucky Wildcats would be lucky to win two games on their 6-game Bahamas trip. Well, after two days, the Wildcats have already done it. Kentucky used a late first half surge to roll Champagne Chalons-Reims of the French Pro A league, 81-58.
Kentucky found themselves in a battle with Chalons-Reims during much of the first half. The French club features former college players like Da’Sean Butler (West Virginia), Tasmin Mitchell (LSU) and Darryl Watkins (Syracuse), providing a stiffer challenge than Puerto Rico did the day before. The Wildcats turned to a 2-3 zone late in the first half and went on a 14-2 run in the process. They never looked back from there.
Chalons-Reims are coming off their own break and clearly viewed this game as an exhibition and nothing more. In the second half, they went into cruise control as the game was out of reach. Nevertheless, Kentucky’s performance was impressive. Here’s some things that stood out in the win:
— Kentucky’s ball movement was exceptional and refreshing to see after last season’s struggles when the ball stuck. The Harrison twins were great when attacking the rim, drawing defenders and finding open teammates. Sharing the ball must be a talking point this summer and into next season, as the ‘Cats even over-passed on a few possessions. They also didn’t look lost when Chalons-Reims switched to a zone defense.
— Tyler Ulis’ play stood out for the second straight day. His passing, vision and steadiness for a young point guard is impressive. There’s been few times, if any, where he’s looked out of control, something that’s rare with freshmen guards. He’s already developed a pick-and-roll game with Karl-Anthony Towns as well. Ulis is off to a great start in terms of winning a starting job.
— Kentucky and assistant coach Kenny Payne went with two waves of five again, making hockey-like substitutions. Calipari chose to sit higher up in the stands and evaluate his team with new assistant coach Tony Barbee. The Harrison twins joined Devin Booker, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson in one lineup, while Ulis and Towns led a second unit with Dominique Hawkins, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis.
— UK rotated between two types of defenses for the most part. They showed their typical man-to-man to begin with, except the ball pressure on the perimeter turned up a notch compared to the majority of last season. Ulis is great in this defense and the Harrison’s have shown early signs of improvement as well. Knowing that they have legitimate depth at about every position, I could see this pressure defense sticking around. The ‘Cats also turned to a 2-3 zone, using their length to their advantage. Calipari has said he plans to experiment more with the zone this season, but we’ll see how long that lasts.
— Alex Poythress’ energy around the rim was great for a second straight day. He’s as bouncy as ever and his versatility on the defensive end will be a plus for Kentucky.
— Kentucky will play again on Tuesday in a rematch against Puerto Rico at 1 p.m. ET. The game can be seen on ESPNU.