The way Hofstra chose to look at it, the glass was half full, almost. The Pride nearly made it to halftime with an intense, inspired, close game against a team that has a legitimate shot, as Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said, to finish the year by “cutting down nets.”
On this day, though, Kentucky cut down Hofstra’s hopes of staying competitive to the finish. The NCAA title-seeking Wildcats finished the first half on a 12-0 run, started the second with a 14-3 spurt and showed why they are in a completely different realm, leaving Barclays Center with a comfortable 96-73 victory Sunday.
At times during the second half, when coach John Calipari’s Wildcats were up by 28 and embarking on an alley-oop dunk exhibition, it seemed that Kentucky could have named the final score.
“Terrific team, great talent,’’ Mihalich said. “I said to Cal after the game, ‘Are you going to win this whole thing?’ He said, ‘We’ve got some things we’ve got to work out.’ But he’s not a Hall of Fame coach for nothing. He’ll get it worked out.”
Still, Hofstra proved it could step up while on a big stage. The Pride played hard. Its fans even outcheered the huge Kentucky contingent, roaring when Rokas Gustys (13 points, eight rebounds) had two slam dunks and when Ty Greer’s layup off Brian Bernardi’s feed made it 36-33 with 4:01 left before intermission.
“I’ll tell you, they were not afraid of us at all,” Calipari said. “They were physical, they made shots. It was a three-point game and I’m sitting there like ‘Why did I schedule this game? What was I thinking?’ ”
Actually, he had scheduled it in deference to his old buddy Brett Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, with whom he worked when Calipari coached the Nets.
The game originally was supposed to be the curtain-raiser at the new Nassau Coliseum. As it was, there were 7,514 spectators and the Brooklyn atmosphere was charged — for at least a while.
“Send me into any game and I’m going to think I can win,” said Deron Powers, who led Hofstra with 18 points. “I don’t care if I’m playing Kentucky or I’m playing the Cavaliers. I don’t care who it is, I’m coming in that game ready to win. So when I see it 36-33, as a group, we’re all thinking we can win this game.”
But Kentucky wore down the Pride with its size and wore out Hofstra with the shooting of Malik Monk and Isai ah Briscoe, who had 20 and 19 points, respectively. They were ready for the opponent’s inspired play.
“We’re going to be every team’s Super Bowl,” Monk said. “Coach Cal said that from the jump: If we don’t bring it, we’re going to get beat.”
Now Kentucky (9-1) will go about focusing on being world- beaters. Hofstra (6-5) can reset its sights on being No. 1 on Long Island, with a rivalry game against Stony Brook on Tuesday night. “We’re talking about it already,” Mihalich said.
All told, it was worth living in the Wildcats’ world for a day. Gustys said, “We played 33 minutes of great basketball. I’m sure at the end of the season, we’re going to say, ‘Hey, that was good for us.’ ”
Calipari would not be the least surprised.
“I would hope that Joe would look at how his team played in that first half,” the Hall of Fame coach said, “and say, ‘If we can play like that, if that’s who we can be, then I’m happy.’ ”