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Wildcats continue to soar in Bahamas exhibitions

By LARRY VAUGHT larry@amnews.com

This was going to be the game that an older, more experienced Dominican Republic national team was going to challenge Kentucky.

After three easy wins in the Bahamas, the Cats were coming back from two days off and it seemed like it might be natural for a letdown.

Instead, Kentucky unleashed its depth and size again to overpower the Dominicans 83-71 on Friday and again seemed to have everybody play well even if the Dominicans did cut into the lead midway of the second half thanks to a zone defense and some slow transition defense by Kentucky.

The Wildcats play at noon today against Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket in a game on the recently launched SEC Network (Comcast Cable channel 395).

"This must be fun for John Calipari to watch," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas during the game. "He's not coaching, but just watching and it has to be fun."

Kentucky turned a 47-36 halftime lead into a blowout to start the second half with a 9-0 run with the second platoon on the court. Of course, with nine McDonald's All-Americans on the team, there might not be a second unit but just two starting fives - and that's without Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles yet cleared to play.

A trimmed down Dakari Johnson had a big first half with five offensive rebounds and eight total boards. He finished with 10 points (5-for-7 shooting) and 12 rebounds.

"Dakari Johnson just muscled (former Wildcat) Eloy Vargas out of the way. Just having him there is huge. If you try to block a shot, the offensive glass is wide open and a guard can't rotate down and pick him up," Bilas said. "He has just dominated the offensive glass and it is not like he is playing against high school guys."

"I loved the way he played," UK assistant coach Kenny Payne said on the UK Radio Network postgame show. "He is playing great."

The continued strong play of Alex Poythress continued. He was Kentucky's leading scorer after three games, but he's always shown flashes of brilliance in his first two years at Kentucky. He had 13 points by halftime and early in the second half hit his second 3-pointer. He also got a hoop when the Dominicans trimmed a big lead to 12 points with about eight minutes to go. He finished with 20 points (8-for-9), five rebounds, two assists and a block.

Poythress has mainly played power forward in the four Bahamas games. When Lyles and Cauley-Stein join the team, he could find himself playing more at small forward and Calipari is hoping he can provide the same size and play there that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did on the 2012 national championship team.

But with the depth Calipari has this year, he can experiment all he wants because he's got so many options.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 12 points and seven rebounds, Aaron Harrison nine points, Andrew Harrison eight points and six assists. Tyler Ulis hit two 3-pointers and had seven points.

Here's just a few other things during the game that Bilas noted that stood out to me:

Payne was not happy with UK's defense.

"We did not dominate the boards. We've got to dictate pace," he said.

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