LEXINGTON (AP) — Jamal Murray scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half, reserve Derek Willis got Kentucky going with a career-high 14 in the first and No. 2 Kentucky outlasted Albany 78-65 Friday night in the season opener for both schools.
Murray overcame an uneven first half to shoot 6 of 9 from the field after halftime and 8 of 15 overall, including several thunderous dunks that energized the crowd. He also had eight of Kentucky’s 16 assists in his debut to help the Wildcats (1-0) stay safely ahead of the scrappy Great Danes (0-1).
Willis got Kentucky going with several career bests including scoring along with five rebounds. Marcus Lee and Tyler Ulis each had 12 points for Kentucky, which won the first of back-to-back games.
Peter Hooley had 18 points and Evan Singletary 17 for Albany, which got as close as 71-59 with 3:36 remaining.
Six-foot-11 forward Skal Labissiere added nine points and five rebounds in his debut for the Wildcats, who were ragged at times while trying to replace seven players that went to the NBA Draft.
Kentucky coach John Calipari warned that this group might be more of a work in progress than previous teams, especially last year’s dominant collection that started 38-0 before losing in the Final Four to eventual runner-up Wisconsin. And to an extent he was right as the Wildcats committed 20 turnovers and were outscored 38-34 in the paint.
But they controlled the boards 34-28 and shot 56 percent from the field, more than enough to win their inaugural meeting against the Great Danes.
Albany was nonetheless competitive and play was even chippy at times against Kentucky’s highly-touted freshmen.
Thanks to Willis, who was mostly lost in the shuffle behind that stream of prized players for most of his career, and Murray’s second-half recovery, the Wildcats maintained a cushion.
Even if it wasn’t always pretty.
NOT JUST GLAD TO BE HERE
Like many opponents playing their first game in Rupp Arena, Albany players took long looks around the 23,000-seat facility during pregame shootaround.
However, the Great Danes weren’t awed by the Wildcats or the biggest venue they’ll play in this season. Kentucky didn’t start breaking away until midway through the second half, and Albany didn’t back down physically. They shot 43 percent.
Two offsetting technical fouls were called early in the second half following a scrum beneath Albany’s basket. Alex Poythress and Great Danes forward Travis Charles were whistled for one confrontation, while Tyler Ulis and Evan Singletary were soon T’d up for dead-ball violations in which teammates had to separate them.
No free throws were taken and the Wildcats ended up with possession.
Albany: The Great Danes had one assist and seven turnovers in the first half and finished with four assists and 15 giveaways.
Kentucky: Poythress had two points and three rebounds in his official return from a left knee injury. … Lee shot 5 of 7 from the field and had eight rebounds. … Freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe did not play because of a bruised knee sustained in practice.
Albany: Visits Boston University on Monday night.
Kentucky: Hosts NJIT on Saturday night.