Five things you need to know from the Kentucky Wildcats’ 86-52 win over the North Florida Ospreys at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center:
1. Everyone seems tired of UK’s “cupcake season.” Kentucky started Friday night’s game flatter than in any contest so far this season.
It wasn’t just the Kentucky players who lacked energy, either.
At times during the first half, Rupp Arena was quieter than I have ever heard it during a UK regular-season game.
That combined to allow North Florida — which came to Lexington 1-5 — to hold a 16-14 lead at the under-eight television timeout of the first half (which came at 7:31).
Sparked by Daimion Collins and Sahvir Wheeler, Kentucky subsequently uncorked a 23-7 run to end the first half and seize control of the game.
We saw last season, when the coronavirus pandemic denied UK its traditional run of foes from leagues “down the food chain,” that these games do serve an on-court purpose for John Calipari in the development of Kentucky’s “new roster every year.”
But watching Kentucky play a steady diet of Robert Morris, Mount St. Mary’s, Ohio University (a good team, in fairness), Albany and North Florida is not scintillating entertainment.
There is one more week left in UK’s “cupcake season,” with Central Michigan and Southern, coached by ex-Wildcats point guard Sean Woods, before the Kentucky season resumes in earnest with games at Notre Dame, vs. Ohio State on a neutral court and then archrival Louisville in Rupp Arena.
2. Daimion Collins is UK’s ‘X-factor.’ Keion Brooks joined Davion Mintz on UK’s sick list, allowing Collins, the 6-foot-9, 202-pound human pogo stick, to make his first career college start.
The freshman from Atlanta, Texas, responded with 12 points, six rebounds, a blocked shot — and some more rim-rattling dunks.
When UK was unleashing the run that seized control of the game late in half one, Collins was a huge part.
With Kentucky up four late in half one, he fought for an offensive rebound and followed in a Dontaie Allen miss. On the next Wildcats possession, Collins dunked off a steal and a hit-ahead pass from Oscar Tshiebwe.
Collins is very raw, and there may be teams whose physicality makes it tough for the willowy forward to play.
But he has a combination of length and athleticism that no one else on Kentucky’s front line possesses.
That’s why his pace of development is huge in determining the ultimate arc of the UK season.
3. Dontaie Allen is a better all-around player. The former Pendleton County star got 19 minutes of run vs. North Florida and did good things with them.
Allen finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Almost exclusively a stand-still shooter last season, Allen seems to be playing with more zeal defensively and on the glass.
It has actually been his outside shot that has tormented him the past two games. After he went 0-of-5 from the field vs. Albany, Allen started Friday night’s game by missing all his first-half field-goal tries, 0-of-4.
However, even with that, Kentucky was plus-14 with Allen on the court in the first half.
It will be interesting on a crowded UK roster if Allen’s improved play in areas other than perimeter shooting can carve out a regular-rotation role for him.
Highlights from an 86-52 win pic.twitter.com/ksf24j6VUV
— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) November 27, 2021
4. Homecoming for Hendricksen. Former Lexington Christian Academy star and current North Florida leading scorer Carter Hendricksen got a nice ovation from the Rupp Arena crowd when he was introduced in the Ospreys starting lineup.
Hendricksen entered the game averaging 13.8 points and 4.0 rebounds, while making 40.7 percent of his shots, 47.5 percent of his three-point tries and 84.2 percent of his foul shots.
Back in his home state, the 6-7, 217-pound forward had a nice stretch in the first half in which he threw a nifty pass to Jadyn Parker for a layup, then drained a three-pointer on North Florida’s ensuing possession.
Otherwise, it was a challenging homecoming for Hendricksen.
He shot 2-of-13 from the field, 2-of-10 on three-point tries, and finished the game with six points, five rebounds and four turnovers.
Before Rupp Arena, the Mount Sterling product had scored in double figures in every Ospreys game this season, including vs. Power-Five conference foes Texas Tech (14 points), Texas A&M (14 points), Arizona State (14 points) and UCLA (11 points).
5. UK gains on KU in the all-time wins race. With the win over North Florida, the Wildcats (5-1) gained a game Friday on Kansas (4-1) in the all-time men’s college hoops wins race.
The No. 4 Jayhawks were stunned by Dayton, 74-73, on a buzzer beater by Mustapha Amzil in the ESPN Events Classic in Orlando, Fla.
The all-time wins race now stands: 1. Kentucky 2,332; 2. Kansas 2,327.
UK’s next game is Monday night vs. Central Michigan.
KU’s next game is Saturday vs. Iona in the third-place game of the ESPN Events Classic.