LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Kentucky’s defense is in good shape, it’s the offense that needs some fine-tuning.
The Wildcats opened the season with a 65-44 win over Winthrop on Friday night, a game in which No. 10 Kentucky didn’t a shoot well but forced 29 turnovers.
“If we don’t come up with a great defensive effort tonight, they come away with a win,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “When we are not shooting the ball well, I like that we can hang it in there with our defense.”
Erik Daniels scored 15 points and the Wildcats opened the second half with a 16-3 run to take control. Kentucky shot 44.9 percent from the field (22 of 49) and had 24 turnovers.
Still, the Wildcats led by 11 at halftime and extended the advantage to 48-24 in the opening minutes of the second half. The Wildcats led by as many as 28 points.
Chuck Hayes and Gerald Fitch added 12 points apiece and Kelenna Azubuike had 11 for Kentucky, which forced Winthrop into 29 turnovers.
Winthrop’s point total was its lowest since scoring 42 early last season in a loss to Utah. The Eagles have been held under 50 points just six times in coach Gregg Marshall’s six seasons.
Kentucky held Alabama and Vanderbilt to less than 50 points last season, but before that hadn’t done so since December 2000.
Defense “is the best part of our team,” Daniels said. “Everything starts with defense.”
The Eagles had more than twice as many turnovers as field goals (14).
“They made every pass an adventure,” Marshall said. “You can’t simulate it. Before we left, we put a sixth defender out on the court in practice. So, we sort of simulated it but that guy was basically just running around like a chicken with his head cut off.”
The Wildcats trailed only once, in the opening minutes, but gained control and led 32-21 at the half.
“We were pretty anxious to make the great play instead of the simple play,” Smith said.
The one offensive bright spot for Kentucky was its 3-point shooting, as the Wildcats made 9-of-18 attempts. Azubuike made all three of his 3-point attempts.
Reserve Josh Grant had nine points to lead Winthrop, which has played in the NCAA tournament four of the past five years. Tyrone Walker, the preseason pick as Big South Conference player of the year, scored just four points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Kentucky is 25-3 in season openers at Rupp Arena. Winthrop fell to 0-11 against Southeastern Conference teams.