By JEFF MEZYDLO
(AP) -- Now that Kentucky has a pair of hard-fought games under its collective belt, John Calipari's squad should be more than ready to showcase its budding talent in front of a Rupp Arena crowd.
The third-ranked Wildcats expect to have an easier time in their home opener against Lafayette on Friday night.
Defending national champion Kentucky (1-1) has few prominent pieces remaining from last season's 38-2 group that sent three freshmen and two sophomores to the NBA. The Wildcats again have some potential one-and-done talent, but don't expect to be as dominant, at least not right away.
After holding on for a 72-69 victory over Maryland in Brooklyn last Friday, Calipari felt the Wildcats continued to make strides in a 75-68 loss to ninth-ranked Duke on Tuesday in Atlanta. Alex Poythress had 20 points while fellow freshmen Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin each added 16 as Kentucky nearly overcame a 14-point deficit against a veteran Blue Devils team.
"I think we learned a lot about ourselves," Noel said. "When you go up against a team like Duke, you've got to bring it every possession. Tonight was a learning process."
Goodwin, Poythress and Noel have combined to average 26.7 points and 13.3 rebounds. Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, who played in every game last season, has 24 points, nine boards and six assists.
"We're getting better," Calipari said. "We were better than we were against Maryland. (Duke) just had some seniors. But we had a chance."
Kentucky shot 42.9 percent against the Terrapins, but made 49.0 percent of its attempts and still lost to Duke.
"What they don't understand is how hard they have to play every possession, how a minute and a half can cost you a game," Calipari said of his young squad. "They don't know it yet. It's never been important to them. Our job is to teach them. We've got to get them in stronger shape mentally and physically."
Calipari has a good chance to do some more in-game teaching when the Wildcats return home to face Lafayette (1-1) for the first time. This contest begins a favorable home stretch for the Wildcats, who host Morehead State and Long Island before visiting No. 20 Notre Dame on Nov. 29 as part of the SEC/Big East Challenge.
The Wildcats could have North Carolina State transfer Ryan Harrow back at point guard after he missed Tuesday's loss because of flu-like symptoms.
Kentucky will be looking for its 34th consecutive home victory over an unranked non-conference opponent. The Leopards, 0-8 against SEC schools, are facing their first Top 25 team since losing 86-41 at then-No. 6 Villanova on Nov. 20, 2010.
Sophomore Dan Trist had 30 points as Lafayette shot 53.1 percent but needed overtime for a 98-94 win over Long Island on Monday.
Updated November 15, 2012