Kentucky controlled the opening tip of its season-opener against No. 4 Duke in the Champions Classic, but it was one of the only things that fell its way on a night in which the game quickly went sideways for the second-ranked Wildcats in the Blue Devils’ 118-84 victory Tuesday
Duke rained shots down over and over again in a variety of ways, with a variety of players, all in equally demoralizing fashion in their surprising rout of the Wildcats.
Duke led by as many as 21 in the first half and it ballooned to 37 after halftime. The game was all but decided early in the second half, but it was Vince Carter gif level over by the time the Blue Devils had taken a 91-54 advantage behind a second consecutive Alex O’Connell made corner 3-pointer with 11:48 remaining in regulation.
Mostly it was sequences like this that continuously broke UK’s flow and spirit all in one fell swoop.
R.J. Barrett led all scorers with 33 points (he had 20 in the first half, played sparingly in the second half and sat the final four minutes). Co-stars Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish added 28 and 22, respectively, to contribute to the blowout. Together they combined to go 30 of 53 from the floor and 8 of 16 from beyond the arc, in what was an impressive showing from one of the youngest teams in the sport.
One of the lone bright spots for Kentucky on the evening — and believe me, they were few and far between in what amounted to a brutal, unexpected beatdown on national television — was the consistent play it got from graduate transfer Reid Travis. He scored 22 points and snatched seven rebounds in his first official showing as a Wildcat. Freshman Keldon Johnson brought a ton of energy and competitive spirit as a standout performer, too. He finished with a team-high 23 points on 8-of 16-shooting.
Here are three takeaways from what we learned in Duke’s dominant showing.
1. Big 3 hype was not hyperbole
We’ve thought for weeks — heck, months — that Williamson would grab the headlines with his rim-rocking dunks and ferocious feats of athleticism, but that Barrett would be the best overall player. That proved true against Kentucky, though it’s hard to quantify the levels at which each output value. Reddish, the third member of the hyped freshman trio who was injured much of the preseason, was always talked about as the X-factor. X-factor he is no more. They combined for 83 on the night– one less than UK’s entire team — and proved unstoppable as an offensive force. It’s unlikely they fire on as many cylinders as often as they did against UK on a nightly basis in the season, but come on! It was jarring to see this young core give us a glimpse at their sky-high ceiling just 40 game minutes into the season.
2. This was a stunning outcome
Kentucky was a 1-point favorite over Duke. It lost by 34, and trailed by as many as 37. Duke’s starters didn’t even play for most of the final four minutes! Not only is it a stunning loss, simply because UK was ranked second and Duke was ranked fourth, but because this officially goes down as the most lopsided loss John Calipari has ever taken during his tenure as the Wildcats coach. Picking Duke to win wouldn’t have been somewhat bold but not crazy, but no one expected the Blue Devils to cruise in the manner they did.
3. Zion Williamson is a thing
This was an inevitability that college hoops fans have seen coming for months. Williamson, simply put, is going to be his own entity this season. There is going to be as much focus and discussion centered around Duke as there is about Williamson and how he casually sucked the air out of a ball by fisting it effortlessly through the rim, whether it’s against Kentucky or Stetson. He had a near flawless outing, knocking down 11 of 13 shot attempts, grabbing 7 rebounds and making his one and only 3-point attempt.
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