LEXINGTON — On more than one occasion in Friday night’s sluggish 76-42 exhibition victory over the Transylvania Pioneers, UK coach John Calipari substituted five players at a time.
It wasn’t because Calipari was having flashbacks to Dean Smith. It was because the UK coach was so displeased with the effort from his Wildcats.
“If we get that kind of effort, that’s exactly what will happen,” said Calipari, who didn’t have that luxury/threat during last season’s surge to the NIT. “They’ll all come out. Then the guys will be saying, please don’t play me with him and him because you’re going to take us all out.
“Then, peer pressure takes over. Then I don’t have to coach the guy to play hard, they will.”
The Wildcats were especially sluggish coming out of the gate, with only, arguably, Juluis Randle and James Young playing with much intensity against a Transy team that has 13 freshmen on its 19-player roster.
Randle led Kentucky with 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Young had 9 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
Randle didn’t single himself out for effort, however.
“One of his (Calipari) pet peeves is not playing hard,” Randle said. “We were just not out there playing hard enough on defense or offense, running the floor. We just have to compete. We’re young, and we don’t really get it right now. We stopped (playing) a lot. But we will be fine.”
This exhibition came only some 36 hours after Kentucky was rated No. 1 in the country by The Associated Press.
“Like I told the guys after, that doesn’t look like the No. 1 team to me,” Calipari said.
Kentucky played without presumed starting point guard Andrew Harrison, who has a knee bruise.
No word on whether Harrison will be back for Monday’s exhibition game with Montevallo (7 p.m.), or Friday’s season-opener at Rupp with UNC-Ashville (7 p.m).
Randle was the only Wildcat in double-figure scoring in the Transy game.
UK led 41-30 at halftime and out-scored the Pioneers 35-12 in the second half, following a pep talk by Calipari at the break.
Freshman center Dakari Johnson was one of the UK players who got the message, finishing with 9 points and 8 rebounds.
Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein also came on, finishing with 7 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals.
Trevor Tiller, a 6-1 freshman guard from Paintsville, led the Pioneers with 11 points, and freshman guard Logan Wade, from Louisville, added 10 points.
Joe Jennings, a 6-9 sophomore center, had 6 points and 9 rebounds for Transy.
The 6-3 Wade suggested that playing against Kentucky’s talent was no walk in the park.
“I’m not used to playing against players that tall,” Wade said. “Their length is ridiculous. Even their point guard (Aaron Harrison, for now) is 6-6, which is pretty crazy.”
The Wildcats appeared to take this contest as a lesson learned, meaning, no reason to push any panic buttons.
“Obviously, I think we could have played better,” Johnson said. “But it’s a process. It’s our first game, and I think we’ll get better as the season goes on.”
Transy coach Brian Lane lent both perspective and humor, as he always does.
“There is so much learning that has to take place with freshmen, and I don’t care how good they are and how big, it is just going to take a little time,” Lane said. “I tell you what; they will come out — when is the next exhibition game? I feel sorry for that team because you will see a much more energized (team).
“Not that they weren’t energized, but people were saying that it was going to be as bad as it is score-wise, and that’s hard. It’s hard to get up for a game like this.”
Lane thanked Calipari again for Kentucky’s willingness to play this game vs. the NCAA Division III Pioneers, netting some $50,000 for Transy’s athletic program.
“Certainly we appreciate the fact that we were able to, one, play the game, and, two, be able to at least make it competitive enough to where I can go home and my wife won’t yell at me,” Lane said.