|After impressive opener, No. 2 Kentucky heads home to face EKU|
Potentially bound for the nation's No. 1 ranking following a 69-62 victory over top-rated Michigan State on Tuesday night in the Champions Classic at New York, second-ranked Kentucky returns to the hardwood on Friday night in Lexington, Ky., to face Eastern Kentucky.
"We're coming off a game where people who watched it are saying, 'Did you see their energy? Did you see their spirit? Did you see how hard they play?'" Kentucky coach John Calipari said Thursday. "Well, just be that team. We gotta do the same this game.
"Now, this is going to be a hard game because this team is pressing for 40 minutes. They're gonna scramble and do stuff that this team has not seen."
The Colonels arrive at Rupp Arena also at 1-0 following a 79-68 victory over Chattanooga on Tuesday.
"We're going to go in there and compete like crazy and see what happens," coach A.W. Hamilton said.
The Wildcats are coming off an impressive debut, as they controlled the game against the Spartans from opening tip to final buzzer.
The talk of the night was the play of freshman guard Tyrese Maxey, who came off the bench for 26 points. It was the highest total for a Kentucky freshman in his debut.
Calipari said, "I'm just watching the game, and like, 'Holy geez, did you see that? Put it in his hands again. Let's go side pick-and-roll. Let's see what he'll do.' ... You see it and you go."
Maxey wasn't alone with stellar backcourt play. Sophomores Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley added 11 and 10 points, respectively, while going against the Spartans' highly touted backcourt of Cassius Winston and Rocket Watts.
As a team, Kentucky limited Michigan State to 39.3 percent shooting, including a dismal 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) from 3-point range.
"What I saw defensively for this early -- this is my 11th year -- I'm not sure if there's a couple of teams that were better defensively at this point than we were that game," Calipari said.
For Eastern Kentucky, a fierce effort was needed to secure a victory on opening night.
Trailing 38-33 at halftime, the Colonels quickly grabbed control after the break.
"Fifteen-nothing run to start the second half, it was a good speech," Hamilton said.
The story of the night for Eastern Kentucky was redshirt junior Darius Hicks. Despite not playing for almost two full years after a transfer from North Carolina State followed by an ACL injury, Hicks had 18 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
"He's tough to guard," Hamilton said. "He has a quick first step and he's powerful and athletic."
Sophomore guard Houston King led the Colonels in scoring with 19 points. Jomaru Brown, another sophomore guard, contributed 14 points for Eastern Kentucky, which hit 51.9 percent of its field-goal attempts while limiting the Mocs to 32.4 percent shooting.
Eastern Kentucky's game against Kentucky is the first in a historic schedule. For the first time ever, the Colonels are playing all six of the in-state Division I schools in the same season.
--Field Level Media