LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari liked the end result from the official debut of his two-platoon system, even if the top-ranked Wildcats weren’t always sharp.
Despite those lulls, they still had more than enough size and talent for Grand Canyon to handle.
Andrew Harrison scored 16 points and Kentucky dominated Grand Canyon in every phase during an 85-45, season-opening blowout on Friday night.
Beginning their second straight season atop the rankings thanks to a 10-deep roster that Calipari utilized through a two-platoon system, the Wildcats exploited their substantial height and talent advantages through both units against a young Antelopes squad featuring seven true or redshirt freshmen among nine newcomers.
Despite missing a bunch of easy chances, Kentucky still shot 49 percent as nine of 11 players scored. The Wildcats held the Antelopes to 15-for-48 shooting (31 percent), outrebounded them 51-21 and blocked 10 shots.
They even stretched a 27-point halftime lead to 40 in the final minute, but Calipari believed his Wildcats could have played better.
“The first half, it was good,” the coach said of his team’s 43-16 lead at the break built by holding Grand Canyon to 25 percent shooting. “The second half was not good. We never got in rhythm. We never made extra passes, so we kind of reverted. But I expect some of that early.”
Willie Cauley-Stein added 12 points and 4 blocks, Dakari Johnson had 13 rebounds and 10 points and Trey Lyles had 14 points for Kentucky.
The Wildcats also dominated the Antelopes 58-16 in the paint, symbolizing Grand Canyon’s struggles inside against a roster featuring nine high school All-Americans; the starting lineup alone featured 6-foot-6 Andrew Harrison and twin brother Aaron (seven points) in the backcourt and topped off with 7-footer Cauley-Stein and 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 8 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Grand Canyon coach and former NBA player Dan Majerle said the Wildcats’ length poses a lot of problems.
“I mean you really have to stay with their bigs,” he said. “So you kind of have to pick your poison and that is why they are going to be so good.”
Royce Woolridge, son of late former NBA player Orlando Woolridge, scored 15 points and Daniel Alexander 10 for Grand Canyon.
Though the first test of Kentucky’s two-platoon system arrives Tuesday night in Indianapolis against No. 5 Kansas, its debut was encouraging for both units for the most part and still warmed a Rupp Arena crowd of 22,533 on an unseasonably cold night.
Andrew Harrison got the Wildcats’ first unit started by scoring the game’s first seven points. They exited 4 1/2 minutes later with a 14-6 lead that the next platoon of 7-footer Johnson, guards Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis and forwards Marcus Lee and Lyles initially struggled to expand behind missed shots.
But that second wave of Wildcats managed to outscore the Antelopes 13-0 in their first seven minutes of play and contributed to a stifling defensive effort that held Grand Canyon to 6-of-24 shooting in the first 20 minutes.
“It was OK,” Andrew Harrison said of Kentucky’s intensity. “We could have played with a little more energy and that’s on me, getting my teammates ready and keeping them energized and keeping them in the game.”
Grand Canyon: Friday’s game was the first of two preseason Top-25 teams that Grand Canyon will face. The Antelopes host No. 25 Harvard on Dec. 30 in Phoenix. … Grand Canyon has three common non-conference opponents with Kentucky: Montana State, UT-Arlington and Buffalo.
Kentucky: The Wildcats improved to 92-19 all-time in season openers and 6-0 under Calipari. … Counting exhibitions, Kentucky has won its first three games by an average margin of 52.3 points.
MORE TALENT COMING
Before the game Kentucky announced the signings of three top-20 players from the 2015 class: guards Isaiah Briscoe (6-3) and Charles Matthews and 6-11 center Skal Labissiere.
Grand Canyon: Hosts Montana State on Monday.
Kentucky: Hosts Buffalo on Sunday.
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