LEXINGTON, Ky. — It was the start of "the toughest 24 hours in college basketball history," and it couldn't have started any better for the Utah Valley University men's basketball team.
The Wolverines jumped out to a 34-25 hafltime lead at fifth-ranked Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Friday night. It was part of the "shock the world" mentality that head coach Mark Pope had instilled in his team.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats are full of athletes and had a top-five recruiting class for a reason. It showed in the second half. Forward Kevin Knox hit a 3-pointer and then threw down a fast break dunk to start an 18-0 run that ultimately put the game away and led to a 73-63 victory in the season opener for both teams.
"We're certainly really disappointed with the outcome," Pope said. "I believe we have a really good team. I love my guys. I love my locker room and we can be way better than this."
Senior Kenneth Ogbe finished with a team-high 12 points and four other Wolverines scored in double digits. Jake Toolson had 11 points and Conner Toolson, Isaac Neilson, and Brandon Randolph each had 10 points, respectively.
Here are a few observations of the first leg of the toughest 24 hours in college hoops as UVU turns its attention to Duke and Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.
UVU is ready to play
With 13 NCAA Division I or junior college transfers on the roster, it is easy to see why UVU was able to hang around on Friday night.
Add to the fact that UVU knew they were facing Kentucky and Duke on back-to-back nights and the Wolverines came prepared.
The talent is there with leaders like Kenneth Ogbe and Brandon Randolph. Oklahoma transfer Akolda Manyang had 6 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocks in his debut for UVU. Preseason All-WAC center Isaac Neilson was three rebounds away from a double-double.
Zone defense hurts Wolverines
In the first half, Randolph, Jake Toolson and the other UVU guards were able to get by the Kentucky defenders. It prompted a defensive change from Kentucky head coach John Calipari. And it was an effective change.
The Wildcats went to a zone defense and forced four straight turnovers that led to breakaway dunks and flipped the game in a hurry. Forward Kevin Knox got it started with a 3-pointer and a dunk followed by back-to-back dunks by preseason all-SEC guard Haidou Diallo, who finished with a game-high 18 points.
UVU shot 41.1 percent on the night but was just 5-of-18 from beyond the arc and 12-of-18 from the free throw line. In fact, UVU was just 4-of-10 from the line in the second half.
When UVU got penetration, shots were available and the Wolverines kept it close. Howerver, the penetration was just too few and far between and UVU could never recover following the Kentucky run.
Akolda Manyang impresses in debut
Yes, the big 7-footer from Oklahoma didn't have a monster scoring night like he did in the UVU's exhibition win over Dixie State. However, he impacted the game in different ways from rebounding to blocking shots.
Manyang finished with a game-high five blocks and, according to Kentucky head coach John Calipari, really impacted the shooting woes of the Wildcats in the first half. Manyang also finished with six points and six rebounds, proving he is going to be a force in the Western Athletic Conference.
UVU came up a little bit short against No. 5 Kentucky but earned the respect of a top-tier coach.
"This team, this Utah Valley? They're going to win their share of games," Calipari said. "They're big. We missed a lot of shots because of the big guy. Their guard play ... they're legit."
Moral victories aren't a part of Pope's mantra. However, UVU showed that with a group of veterans, it can compete. Take away the 18-point run and it's a completely different game.
Kyle McDonald is sports fan who loves the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter at @kylesportsbias