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No.1 Kentucky topples UNC-Asheville, 89-57
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- For one half, Kentucky looked little like the nation's No. 1 team because the Wildcats' freshmen resembled the rookies they were.
Julius Randle made sure the Wildcats and his much-heralded fellow freshmen lived up to their billing in the final 20 minutes.
Randle scored 15 of his game-high 23 points in the second half to lead five Kentucky players in double figures and help the top-ranked Wildcats' highly touted freshman class debut successfully with an 89-57 season-opening rout of UNC-Asheville on Friday night.
Randle, a 6-foot-9 forward considered the best of Kentucky's six high school All-American recruits in an eight-man group some are calling the best ever, also grabbed 15 rebounds.
While his effort offered a peek at his potential, Randle's focus was on helping the Wildcats' development.
"We're getting better every game, but we still have a long way to go," Randle said. "We're nowhere near where we should be, but I think as the intensity and the competition keeps going up, I think we'll have guys rise to the challenge."
Despite Randle's third double-double following two in exhibition games, Wildcats coach John Calipari suggested that he could have had at least five more rebounds with continued intensity. That's not saying he disliked the results.
"When he's going after it and he's getting the ball by people and getting that third and fourth play around the goal, there's no one better," Calipari said.
Reserve sophomore forward Alex Poythress added 10 points and 13 rebounds. Reserve Marcus Lee added 17 points, James Young had 11 and Aaron Harrison 10 as Kentucky's freshmen helped the Wildcats overcome a ragged start.
Poythress' performance was impressive after a rocky freshman season that began strong but finished inconsistently. That struggle factored into his decision to pass on entering the NBA Draft to return for more experience.
It paid off with an effort to build on, even though he's not starting.
"It just means I'm playing to my strengths and staying away from my weaknesses," Poythress said.
Kentucky shot 17 of 30 in the second half to finish 28 of 59 (47.5 percent).
Will Weeks' 19 points led UNC-Asheville, which debuted Nick McDevitt as the Bulldogs' head coach.
Kentucky outrebounded UNC-Asheville 48-31, held the Bulldogs to 22-of-57 shooting (38.6 percent) and forced 15 turnovers.
The Wildcats converted 30 of 48 free throws, compared to 10 of just 21 attempts for the Bulldogs.
Randle's 11-of-13 shooting from the line led Kentucky.
The highly anticipated debuts of the Wildcats' talented class generated some buzz throughout Rupp Arena, with the noise reaching an early peak when coach John Calipari unveiled his starting lineup of sophomore 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein surrounded by Randle, Young and 6-6 twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
Friday marked Andrew Harrison's on-court debut at point guard after sitting out the exhibitions with a bruised knee and he finished with five assists.
His solid play at the point couldn't prevent Kentucky's uneven first-half play as the Wildcats shot just 11 of 29 from the field (37.9 percent) and had as many turnovers as assists (four) while trying to sort things out.
Those issues caused Calipari to frequently scream at his players, who struggled to put together consistent stretches through 8 1-2 minutes. Good things such as forcing the Bulldogs into two shot-clock violations were offset by breakdowns that allowed them to beat their 2/3 zone inside. Sam Hughes also hit a 3-pointer to provide UNC-Asheville's third -- and last -- lead at 13-12.
Kentucky went on a 15-2 run helped by consecutive 3-pointers from Young and two putbacks by Poythress. The Wildcats went on to lead 41-31 lead at halftime thanks to eight points from Lee, whom Calipari used sparingly during preseason.
Told that he finished with 17 points, Lee said, "I don't even keep track of that stuff. I try to make sure I give my team as much energy as possible so we can go from one level to the next."
Lee also helped provide a 1:58 glimpse of what Kentucky's only all-freshman look of the half, teaming with the Harrisons, Randle and Young. After using just eight players for a stretch, Calipari began using more of his bench and the Wildcats steadily pulled away for his fifth opening win with the program.
McDevitt hopes his Bulldogs can achieve the same level of intensity as Kentucky showed in the second half.
"I told our guys that for us to have a chance to play against world-class athletes, you have to be in world-class shape," he said. "We're just not there yet. We aren't in good enough shape yet to play against world-class athletes for 40 minutes. I thought we did a nice job for about 24 minutes."
PHOTO: LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 08: Julius Randle #30 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball while defended by D.J. Cunningham #33 of the UNC Asheville Bulldogs during the game at Rupp Arena on November 8, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)