Wildcats roll past Morehead in scrimmage

LEXINGTON (KT) — Kentucky didn’t reach the century mark, but the Wildcats claimed their second exhibition victory of the young season with a tougher-than-expected 92-67 win over Morehead State on Monday night in the Kentucky Cares Classic.

Net proceeds from the contest benefited those affected by hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico, and recent wildfires in California. The proceeds will be distributed by Team Rubicon, a non-government 501(c)(3) organization. The contest drew 14,138 fans and generated $448,220 in ticket revenue.

The Wildcats rolled to a 103-61 win over Thomas More in their exhibition opener last Friday, but had a little more trouble scoring against the Eagles, an Ohio Valley Conference program seeking a new identity under second-year coach Preston Spradlin.

Spradlin, a former graduate assistant and assistant director of basketball operations under Kentucky coach John Calipari, is in his second season with the Eagles and went 12-9 on an interim basis last season. Morehead’s roster features 10 newcomers and just four returnees from last year’s squad.

“They weren’t afraid,” Calipari said. “We needed this kind of game, a great game for us right now. … They fought. Guess what? Every team that comes in here does the same thing. If you don’t fight back, it’s obvious and people look and they say, ‘that kid doesn’t compete, he’s not battling.’ That’s what you learn here. Today was a great lesson in that.”

Hamidou Diallo scored 23 points to lead four players in double figures for Kentucky. Diallo made eight of 12 shots from the field and connected on a pair of 3-pointers. Quade Green came off the bench and followed Diallo with 20 points. Green dished out a team-high five assists. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 17 points and Kevin Knox chipped in with 16.

Like Calipari, Diallo said the Eagles, who held a 30-25 margin on the boards despite being undersized, weren’t easy to overcome.

“It was definitely a tough game,” Diallo said. “They were competitive and they came out and gave it their all.”

Knox and Diallo scored 14 of Kentucky’s first 16 points, while Green came off the bench and gave the Wildcats a lift off the bench with eight points in the first half.

Knox led all scorers with 10 points in the opening half, followed by Diallo with nine. Knox and Diallo made two of Kentucky’s three shots from long range in the opening half.

Gilgeous-Alexander started in place of Green at point guard but both players played a considerable amount of minutes. Green started the exhibition opener against Thomas More and tallied nine points and dished out seven assists.

“Shai’s energy and his ability to deflect balls and make plays (gave us a lift),” Calipari said.

Kentucky led by 16 points late in the first half, but the Eagles, who trailed 39-28 at the half, narrowed the margin to 51-49 with 13 minutes remaining. A one-handed slam dunk by Knox and a three-point play by Diallo helped the Wildcats surge to a 12-0 run as Kentucky pushed the lead back to double digits and avoiding a potential letdown against the instate Eagles.

Morehead got most of its scoring behind the arc and made 10 3-pointers, including seven in the second half. Almontray Harris paced the Eagles with 15 points, followed by Jordan Walker with 13.

“This was a really good game for us,” Spradlin said. “I was really encouraged by how hard our team played. I thought they fought. I thought their energy was great. … This will be a great learning tool for us as we go forward and build this as we go through the season.”

Underrated?

Calipari was surprised to learn the Eagles were a preseason pick to finish ninth in the Ohio Valley Conference. Belmont is the preseason favorite to win the conference, while Murray State is second and Jacksonville State, the defending tournament champion, is picked third.

“They’re going to have nine teams going to the NCAA Tournament, if they’re ninth,” Calipari said. “My gosh.”

Injury update

Calipari said freshman guard Jemarl Baker will be out for the next three months because of a knee injury, while teammate Jared Vanderbilt is expected to return sooner than previously expected from a foot injury.

“(He’s) on a timetable (to return),” he said. “He’ll start conditioning, practicing and then see where we are. There’s a good timetable now for him and it’s not just by chance or happenstance. We know if we have to move it a little bit, we can. But, let’s start with a timetable and that’s what we’re doing. It would be nice to get one more guy (on the court).”

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MOREHEAD STATE (67) — Hicks 6, Walker 13, Chatman 9, Harris 15, Henson 6, Baker 3, Cooper 3, Wright 3, Feagin 3.

KENTUCKY (92) — Diallo 23, Knox 16, Gilgeous-Alexander 17, Washington 8, Gabriel 5, Green 20, Killeya-Jones 3.