LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Hamidou Diallo scored 15 second-half points, most of them during an 18-0 run, and No. 5 Kentucky shot 59 percent after halftime to rally past Utah Valley 73-63 on Friday night in the opener for both schools.
One of Kentucky coach John Calipari’s youngest rosters since arriving in Lexington showed its inexperience by struggling on both ends and trailing 34-25 at halftime. The Wildcats emerged from the break more energetic to make the pivotal run over 3:22 with eight consecutive baskets, including back-to-back transition dunks by Diallo.
The redshirt freshman guard, one of eight Kentucky newcomers, finished with 18 points. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 13 points, Kevin Knox 12 and Nick Richards 10.
Kentucky still had to work to put away the veteran Wolverines. But it eventually built a 57-47 lead with 7:32 remaining and held off Utah Valley in the inaugural meeting between the schools.
Kenneth Ogbe had 12 points and Jake Toolson added 11 for the Wolverines.
The Wolverines’ advantage in experience showed throughout a first half in which they held Kentucky to 22 percent shooting and outrebounded the Wildcats 25-16. Just as quickly, they couldn’t keep up with their younger counterparts after the break and shot just 41 percent overall. The outcome spoiled the homecoming for Wolverines coach and Kentucky alumnus Mark Pope, a member of the Wildcats’ 1996 NCAA championship team under Rick Pitino.
Freshman nerves showed as the Wildcats struggled shooting the ball and were frequently outhustled inside. Turning up the tempo quickly shifted momentum and their statistics, as they finished 41 percent from the field and nearly even on the boards (38-37). Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel had seven points and 13 rebounds.
Utah Valley’s season-opening journey gets even tougher as it visits Tobacco Road on Saturday night to meet top-ranked Duke.
Kentucky hosts Vermont on Sunday, playing an NCAA Tournament participant as a final tuneup before facing No. 4 Kansas in Chicago on Tuesday.