GARY B. GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Northern Kentucky had no illusions about pulling off the impossible against No. 1 Kentucky on Sunday.
But had the Norse made a few early layups, coach Dave Bezold believed it could have slowed the Wildcats’ momentum instead of allowing them to get rolling toward a 93-63 rout.
“I may be crazy to say this, but when we had two or three wide-open layups in the first couple of minutes and didn’t make them, I thought that relaxed Kentucky a little bit,” said Bezold, whose team shot 21 of 64 from the field (32.8 percent) including 9 of 35 from beyond the arc.
“When you don’t make those shots against tremendous teams when you are outsized and really out-talented, it’s really difficult to control tempo and it really allows those guys to be relaxed when they shoot the basketball. … I thought that was the difference in the game.”
Daniel Camp’s 13 points led Northern Kentucky in the first meeting between the schools located 83 miles apart. Tyler White added 12 points and Todd Johnson had 10 for the Norse.
For NKU (0-2), it was a big drop off from Friday’s 77-76, season-opening loss at Purdue that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
In that game, the Norse shot 13 of 26 from long range and tied the Boilermakers 35-35 in rebounds including a 17-16 edge on the offensive boards.
Much-shorter NKU had no chance of keeping pace against Kentucky’s much-praised eight-man recruiting class featuring six high All-Americans who measure 6-foot-6 and up. And when shots didn’t fall against the Wildcats’ makeshift zone defense, it was pretty much over for the Norse.
“We just had to knock down open shots and convert on those opportunities,” Johnson said. “We were moving the ball well and crashing the boards, but toward the middle of the half, Kentucky kind of took off.”
Freshman forward Julius Randle had a lot to do with that.
He had 22 points and 14 rebounds for his second double-double in as many games to lead the Wildcats.
Guard Aaron Harrison added 16 points for Kentucky while twin brother Andrew had 13. Alex Poythress contributed nine points while 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein added seven points and 11 rebounds.
Needing a good tuneup with Tuesday’s showdown looming against No. 2 Michigan State in Chicago, the Wildcats responded by dominating every area. Kentucky shot 30 of 55 from the field (54.5 percent), outrebounded NKU 51-23 and scored 36 points in the paint.
The Wildcats were seeking a better start than in Friday night’s 89-57, season-opening rout of UNC-Asheville, the first of three games in five days.
Wildcats coach John Calipari couldn’t complain after Kentucky held NKU to 9-of-31 shooting in the first half on Sunday, though much of that had more to do with the Norse’s understandable reluctance to try and drive inside against the bigger Wildcats. That left NKU to try and make things up from beyond the arc, a strategy that yielded just 3-of-18 shooting (16.7 percent) and played right into Kentucky’s hands in numerous ways.
“They didn’t make their 3s today,” Calipari said. “We hit them on a good night.”
The Wildcats tallied just four fast-break points in the first half but had 16 second-chance points thanks to 12 offensive rebounds. They dominated the boards 29-12 through 20 minutes.
Figure in 5-of-13 shooting from long range (38 percent) and it quickly added to the expected lopsided outcome. Leading 16-10 after Poythress’ 3-pointer, the Wildcats closed the half with a 32-12 run for a 48-22 lead.
Just two nights after its close loss at Purdue, the Norse endured a rude chapter in their second season playing Division I basketball. And that was just the first half.
“I just wanted to learn how tough we could play,” White said. “Even though we came out hard, we didn’t play the type of game we wanted to play.”
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