Top-ranked Kentucky opens campaign against Grand Canyon

Nov 14, 2014 - 4:29 PM Lexington, KY ( - The No. 1 team in the nation will get its season started at home on Friday night, as the Kentucky Wildcats welcome the Grand Canyon Antelopes to Rupp Arena as part of the Cawood Ledford Classic.

Grand Canyon had its first-ever Division I campaign during the 2013-14 season and performed better than expected under the tutelage of head coach Dan Majerle. The Antelopes finished 15-15 overall, including 10-6 in the Western Athletic Conference, and even earned a bid to the Postseason Tournament, where it lost in the first round to Pacific, 69-67.

By the Wildcats' lofty standards, their 2013-14 regular season was rather modest. They finished second in the SEC at 12-6, and after losing to Florida in the conference tournament championship game (61-60), they were 24-10 overall, which was good enough for a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. UK, which opens the season at No. 1 for the second straight year, is no stranger to great postseasons with 16 Final Fours and eight championships, but the 2014 run was arguably their most improbable, as it upset a No. 1 seed, a No. 4 seed and two No. 2 seeds on its way to the title bout before falling just short of championship glory against Connecticut (60-54).

This marks the first-ever meeting between the programs.

The Antelopes lost their top two scorers - Killian Larson (17.2 ppg, 11.6 rpg) and Demetrius Walker (16.9 ppg) - but they have plenty of talent in place to be a force in the WAC once again. Jerome Garrison was a first team all- conference selection a year ago with 16.5 ppg and 37.8 minutes per game. Daniel Alexander was also a steady presence with 12.7 ppg and 5.6 rpg. Royce Woolridge, a transfer from Washington State, was a key performer for the Cougars last season (7.3 ppg, 2.7 apg) and will be eligible to play right away.

The Wildcats have been known for their elite recruiting classes under John Calipari, and this season's freshman crop is as strong as year's past with the top recruits Trey Lyles (6-10, 255), Karl-Anthony Towns (6-11, 235), Devin Booker (6-5, 185), and Tyler Ulis (5-9, 155) all coming aboard. What makes this UK team different however, is the continuity. Julius Randle (15.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg) and James Young (14.3 ppg) were one-and-done as freshmen, but Aaron Harrison (13.7 ppg), Andrew Harrison (10.9 ppg, 4.0 apg), Willie-Cauley Stein (6.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.9 bpg), Alex Poythress (5.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Dakari Johnson (5.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) all return, giving the squad the deepest well of elite talent in the nation.

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