LEXINGTON, Ky. - Nick McDevitt's first minutes as UNC-Asheville's coach were encouraging as the Bulldogs led No. 1 Kentucky three times on Friday night and were within striking distance of the Wildcats' heralded freshmen at halftime.
The second half was another story as Kentucky's talent and athleticism were the differences in an 89-57 loss that showed how far the Bulldogs have to go.
"I thought we did a nice job, particularly in the first half, of playing the pace that we wanted to," McDevitt said. "I just told our guys in the locker room that for us to have a chance to play against world-class athletes, you have to be in world-class shape.
"This being Game One, early November, we're just not there yet. ... I thought we did a nice job for about 24 minutes."
Will Weeks scored 19 points and Andrew Rowsey had 12 for UNC-Asheville, but the Bulldogs shot just 22 of 57 from the field (38.6 percent) and committed 15 turnovers. They were also called for 32 fouls compared to 20 for Kentucky, which made 30 of 48 free throws
See the box score at http://www.ukathletics.com/sports/m-baskbl/stats/2013-2014/uk1108.html
UNC-Asheville hit just 10 of 21 from the line.
Asked whether new rules enacted to discourage fouling worked against his team, McDevitt said, "I didn't feel we got an unfair shake. They are hard to guard. They're just enforcing rules that we've had."
"It's just hard to contain guys that are that quick, that big, that athletic, that skilled," he said.
While McDevitt was talking about Kentucky in general, he had special praise for freshmen forward Julius Randle.
Randle scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half to lead five Kentucky players in double figures and help the top-ranked Wildcats' highly touted freshman class debut successfully. The 6-foot-9 forward, considered the best of Kentucky's six high school All-American recruits in an eight-man group some are calling the best ever, grabbed 15 rebounds.
"Rarely do you see a guy with that kind of size and athleticism and skill level," McDevitt said. "(Kentucky coach John) Calipari is going to have fun coaching him."
Reserve sophomore forward Alex Poythress added 10 points and 13 rebounds. Reserve Marcus Lee added 17 points, James Young had 11 and Aaron Harrison 10 as Kentucky's freshmen helped the Wildcats overcome a ragged start.
Kentucky shot 17 of 30 in the second half to finish 28 of 59 (47.5 percent), but its first-half play was mostly uneven as the Wildcats shot just 11 of 29 from the field (37.9 percent) and had as many turnovers as assists (four) while trying to sort things out.
Those issues caused Calipari to frequently scream at his players, who struggled to put together consistent stretches through 8 1-2 minutes. Good things such as forcing the Bulldogs into two shot-clock violations were offset by breakdowns that allowed them to beat their 2-3 zone inside. Sam Hughes also hit a 3-pointer to provide UNC-Asheville's third and last lead at 13-12.
Kentucky went on a 15-2 run helped by consecutive 3-pointers from Young and two putbacks by Poythress. The Wildcats went on to lead 41-31 lead at halftime.
Kentucky came out stronger in the second half and steadily pulled away, leading by as many as 37.