Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - A first-ever meeting between inhabitants of the Bluegrass State takes place this afternoon, as the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats entertain the Norse of Northern Kentucky.
Expected to be a major force this season, even after being a disappointment in 2012-13 when they finished only 21-12 overall and 12-6 in SEC play, the Wildcats got off on the right foot Friday as they easily dismissed UNC Asheville at home, 89-57.
Kentucky, one of the most successful programs in the history of Division I college basketball, now has a mark of 91-19 in season-opening games, including 5-0 under head coach John Calipari.
As for the Norse, members of the Atlantic Sun Conference these days, they too began the season two nights ago, but they were on the road and came up short in a narrow 77-76 final at Purdue.
Now in his 10th season at Northern Kentucky, head coach Dave Bezold is hoping his team can improve upon a disappointing 11-16 mark from a year ago when the Norse began with six straight defeats.
A 3-pointer by Tyler White with just under a minute remaining in regulation on Friday gave the Norse a 76-72 advantage over Purdue, but the hosts responded with a successful 3-pointer of their own and then took the lead with 13 seconds left on a pair of free throws by Ronnie Johnson.
Tyler finished with just eight points for the visitors, shooting 2-of-6 beyond the arc. Leading the offensive attack was Jordan Jackson with his 24 points, to go along with eight rebounds and five assists, followed by Todd JOhnson and reserve Jack Flournoy who both tallied 12 points as they combined to make 8- of-10 shots on the perimeter. Johnson also pulled down a team-best 11 rebounds as the Norse finished with almost as many offensive boards (17) as they did at the defensive end (18).
In a game that featured six ties and just as many lead changes, NKU committed 14 turnovers and was outscored at the free-throw line, 16-9.
For the first few minutes on Friday it appeared as though Asheville might make things interesting in Lexington, but once the Wildcats got on track it was all over as the hosts cruised to the comfortable win before a crowd of more than 22,000. Leading five players in double figures was Julius Randle who tallied 23 points, adding 15 rebounds for good measure.
Marcus Lee came off the bench to convert all but one of his eight field goal chances as he tallied 17 points in 15 minutes, followed by James Young with 11 points. Aaron Harrison and Alex Poythress both dropped in 10 points, the former picking up four steals and the latter contributing 13 rebounds to help give the squad a solid 48-31 edge on the glass.
Kentucky shot only 3-of-11 from 3-point range in the outing, but more than made up for it with a mere seven turnovers and a massive 30-10 scoring edge at the free-throw line where the Bulldogs missed more (11) than they made.