Cats cruise to victory No. 2,000

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 22, 2009 

Kentucky became the first basketball program to reach 2,000 victories with a bimillennium mauling Monday night.

The Cats breezed past Drexel 88-44 to reach the highly anticipated goal of 2,000 victories. It came with ease after many fans — and UK Coach John Calipari — fretted that North Carolina might get to that numerical plateau first.

But UK, which improved to 12-0 to match the program's best start to a season since the Final Four team of 1983-84, made quick work of Drexel.

After 40 minutes of basketball fun, the UK team and special guests celebrated from center court with 24,354 fans (the 11th-largest crowd in Rupp Arena history).

Confetti rained down in a blue-and-white blizzard. Kool & the Gang's Celebration played in the background.

Herky Rupp, the son of program patriach Adolph Rupp, and former coach Joe B. Hall spoke to the crowd.

Then Calipari took his turn.

"We weren't part of many of the victories," he said. "But we had a job: Get across the finish line before that other blue team."

It became apparent less than four minutes into the game that Kentucky might need re-entry shields to slow down after breaking the tape.

The Cats led 15-3 with 16:10 left in the first half and piled up enough dominating plays to construct a 56-20 halftime lead.

That marked UK's highest-scoring first half of the season and the opponent's lowest-scoring half.

DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Patrick Patterson already had double-digit points. The cartoonish first-half UK statistics included a 27-10 rebounding advantage, a 24-6 edge in points in the paint, 12 assists and three turnovers, and Drexel's 29 percent shooting.

The rest of the evening was prelude to a coronation.

"He hit us on a bad night," Calipari said of his good friend, Drexel Coach James "Bruiser" Flint. "That's as good as we've played."

Drexel played only one only other ranked team, Villanova. When asked to compare the Cats to 'Nova, Flint said, "I don't think it's close."

Fittingly, Cousins and Patterson led UK with 18 points. It was fitting because UK most dominated around the basket. Cousins' 13 rebounds (second most of the season) led UK's 45-22 edge on the boards.

John Wall added 16 points and seven assists.

Drexel (6-6) got 11 points from Samme Givens.

The game began with Kentucky establishing Cousins as a low-post force. He scored eight of UK's first 10 points. Six of his 14 first-half points came on put-backs or free throws that followed attempted put-backs. Often he looked like Moses Malone: shooting, rebounding his own miss and repeating the exercise until he scored.

Patterson, who got criticized for a "soft" 21 points and nine rebounds against Austin Peay on Saturday, dunked with authority for his two baskets en route to a 11-point half.

With Kentucky in full control, the Cats turned to three-point shooting. UK made nine of 13 from beyond the arc. Those shots included DeAndre Liggins equalling a career-high of two with bombs from the left and right corners.

Ramon Harris made his first three-pointer of the season (he had been 0-for-9)."Ramon Harris knocked down a three," Flint said. "I knew we were in trouble."

The half ended with Wall punctuating the dominance with a pair of drives that moved fans out of their seats.

On the first, he eluded a defender with a behind-the-back dribble to scorer on the fast break. After a Drexel miss (the Dragons did not score in the final 2:50 and had only two baskets in the final 7:08), Wall split two defenders and laid in another basket as a third defender reached too late to contest the shot.

That gave UK its 36-point halftime lead.

Kentucky's joyride continued in the second half. The Cats scored the first 10 points to expand the lead to 66-20.

Patterson opened the run with his second three-pointer of the game, which tied a career high.

Ramon Harris completed it by making a free throw with 14:33 left. However, he missed his first free throw off the rim. That snapped a two-game streak of 31 consecutive makes for UK.

When asked if the 2,000-victory total held no significance in the national title-or-bust world of UK basketball, Calipari said, "It's hard to tell the 24,000 who stayed (that) it doesn't matter. All those things that separate us from others are important to the Commonwealth. This is one of those things that separate this program from all others."

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