However, it took graduate student Julius Mays to get the third-ranked Wildcats started toward their 74-28 rout. His three 3-pointers spurred a 19-4 second-half run that involved his highly touted rookie teammates and a 27-18 halftime lead became a 24-point gap.
Forward Nerlens Noel scored 15 points, center Willie Cauley-Stein had 12, guard Archie Goodwin 10 with six rebounds and Alex Poythress five as Kentucky outscored Division III Transylvania 47-10 in the second half.
"I like how we started the half," Calipari said. "I liked how active we were. I liked how we were deflecting balls. I liked our spacing.
"But we are what we are. We're a Nov. 5 team. ... It's going to be a process."
For the first 20 minutes, Transylvania didn't look like the exhibition fodder it was expected to be.
Despite shooting 26 percent in the first half the Pioneers stayed close by forcing 10 turnovers and making the Wildcats play at a slower pace. And their decided height disadvantage didn't stop them from going to the basket against Kentucky's big men.
Transylvania's Brandon Rash got a rise from the Rupp Arena crowd by driving the lane and dunking on Cauley-Stein to bring the Pioneers within 17-16 with 8:32 remaining in the first half and get Calipari off the bench to call a timeout.
"They had great coaching and really tried to jam the inside and keep us off the inside," Noel said. "Coach Cal brought us together and we figured it out and found ways to rebound and score."
Kentucky led just 27-18 at halftime but opened the second half with that run led by Mays, who finished with 14 points before leaving with 6:06 remaining in the game with a hyperextended knee sustained in a collision with a Transylvania player. The Wright State transfer went to the locker room for observation before returning to spend the rest of the game on the bench.
"It will be OK," Mays said. "The doctors checked it and it's nothing serious and I'll be ready to play on Friday."
Sophomore Ryan Harrow added 12 points for Kentucky, which shot 71 percent in the second half and 59 percent for the game. The Wildcats forced 23 turnovers.
Kentucky opens the season on Friday against Maryland in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ethan Spurlin had 11 points for Transylvania, which shot 26 percent. Pioneers coach Brian Lane believes Kentucky might hold many opponents to low numbers after the season starts.
"We were able to handle the pressure early," he said. "Defensively, they are going to get better and better and better. I saw some of the edits from the Blue-White game to the first exhibition, and you could just see a different intensity level. They are just going to get better as the season goes along."