LEXINGTON, Ky. — Rupp Arena on Friday ushered in a new crop of University of Kentucky basketball players during the program’s Big Blue Madness.
On Saturday, that same stage welcomed four Kentucky greats as the injury-depleted New Orleans Pelicans took on the Sacramento Kings.
Playing shorthanded, the Pelicans fell 107-98 on the same court where four former Kentucky players could trace the start of their journey to the NBA: the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis and the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Rajon Rondo.
“I told them that we could be playing in Pennsylvania or against 2-year-olds. They’re going to sell out every time,” Davis said of playing at Rupp. “All they have here is Kentucky basketball.”
The Kings claimed their first lead midway through the third quarter at 83-76, and from there they never looked back. The lead ballooned to 13 points with five minutes remaining as Sacramento took advantage of the Davis-less Pelicans. Davis sat the entire fourth quarter; he finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, three steals and a block.
“It hurts us not being able to play Jrue and those guys in the second half,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “It got a little ragtag.”
With seven players out injured, the Pelicans used a rotation of backups along with new addition Nate Robinson. But Davis propelled the Pelicans to a large early lead.
He continued his torrid start to the preseason, scoring 10 of the Pelicans’ first 20 points in a 12-point, five-rebound first quarter.
“I think he’s going to be one of the all-time great players that have ever played in this league,” Gentry said. “When you look at his skill set, when you look at the size that he has ... he has got a really good knowledge of the game for a 22-year-old.”
New Orleans coasted to a 31-20 lead to end the first quarter after shooting 42 percent from 3-point range and 58 percent from the field.
After signing Friday, Robinson saw his first action with the Pelicans after he replaced Jrue Holiday late in the first quarter. Robinson finished with nine points and four assists in 22 minutes.
Holiday, playing under a minutes restriction, had four points, four assists and a block in 11 minutes.
“With the injury situation the way it is, we’ll take a look at some guys,” Gentry said. “We want to give some guys some time on the floor to see how they can respond to playing in situations like this — especially the new guys.”
The Pelicans led the entire first half, but a late surge by the Kings closed what was an 11-point lead with six minutes remaining in the second quarter to a 61-58 edge at halftime.
“I thought we competed pretty good,” Gentry said. “We were just playing too many guys out of position.”
The third quarter turned into a game of attrition as both teams traded leads. The Pelicans’ Kendrick Perkins and Cousins were cited for technical fouls and continued to verbally spar throughout the quarter. Perkins committed three fouls in the quarter, and Cousins fouled out midway through the fourth — to the dismay of the crowd.
The teams were dealt a scare near the end of the third quarter when Davis and Cousins collided. Cousins remained on the floor and eventually limped off the court, while Davis remained in the game after rotating his neck and shoulder in pain.
Ryan Anderson led the Pelicans with 20 points, and Bryce Dejean-Jones had 11.
The Kings got 20 points from Rudy Gay and 19 apiece from Cousins and Darren Collison.