It was the most dramatically, laughably, unlikely shot in Rupp Arena since Paul Andrews threw one in from beyond mid-court to win the 1982 KHSAA Sweet 16 championship for Laurel County.
UK freshman guard James Young, lunging for a loose ball, landing in the lap of a fan seated on the sideline. In one motion, Young grabbed the basketball and slung it blindly, behind his back, toward the Montevallo basket.
The crowd erupted in delighted laughter, wondering (as did Montevallo coach Danny Young) why it wasn’t a three-pointer (by rule, any shot that accidentally finds its way into the opponent’s basket, no matter where it was launched, is a deuce).
For the Big Blue Nation (and the Montevallo coach), it was a teaching moment about the rules of the game. And it was a teaching moment for James Young and John Calipari, who said it made him laugh. But he also reminded his player that when you save the ball, throw it toward your own basket.
“You’re throwing it to them,” he said. “Throw it at our basket, maybe we get a layup.”
Young's shot easily was the most memorable bucket in Kentucky's 95-72 win over Montevallo Monday night, the Wildcats' second and final exhibition game. The season begins for real on Friday.
Three times in the last week, Rupp Arena has become a classroom for the young Wildcats, Professor Calipari presiding. And, thanks to the more scholarly Falcons, they learned a little bit more about themselves.
The UK coach, for one, appreciated the fact that the veteran visitors did more than come in and cash a big check. They worked. Hard. And made the young Wildcats work in a similar fashion.
“The greatest thing was, they were some juniors and seniors and the kids balled,” Calipari said. “They weren’t afraid. They were physical. They banged. They were not backing down.”
In fact, the Falcons rushed out to an early seven-point lead and for quite a while kept it within 10 or 11 points. If not for the Wildcats’ size advantage, this one might have gone to the closing minutes.
But Kentucky was just too big, too powerful, running up a 47-25 advantage on the boards, using superior size to hit 58 percent from the field to just 39 percent for the visitors.
“Our coach told us just come out and fight,” said Troran Brown, who poured in a game-high 30 points. “Going against the number one team, there’s nothing you can do . Bigger guys, stronger…”
And still, Montevallo didn’t shy away from the paint, which was one reason the Cats had eight blocked shots (six by Willie Cauley-Stein). The Falcons showed why they won 20 games last year, returning to the NCAA Division II Tournament, where they lost in the national championship game to Bellarmine in 2012.
“I was real impressed,” said Alex Poytress, who came off the bench to score 10 points and grab four rebounds in 17 minutes. “They made us play harder, made us execute down the stretch.”
That’s when Kentucky pulled away to its most comfortable margin, the 23-point differential at the end of the evening. It’s just another step in a long, long trail that could lead to a second national championship in three seasons.
The UK coach stressed that, while he has a nice collection of players, they are far from being a team. But there’s still plenty of time.
“I thought we played better than we did last game, and that’s all I’m asking,” said Calipari. “We’re a ways away now, folks. But I’m learning about ‘em every time we play.”
And what he learned on this night in Rupp Arena, against a veteran team that knows how to play, is that his team is listening to what he’s been telling them in practice about effort, about execution.
And he learned that precocious guard James Young can throw in a circus shot behind his back as he’s falling out of bounds. Just in case the situation calls for it.
(Dick Gabriel is in his 25th season with the UK TV and Radio Networks, and can be heard on the Big Blue Insider Monday through Friday from 6-8 p.m. ET on 630 WLAP-AM and wlap.com.)