While helping Kentucky continue to celebrate its historic football victory over Tennessee earlier in the day, UK's basketball team disposed of the plucky Portland Pilots 87-63 Saturday night.
The high point of the still-palpable football euphoria came midway through the first half when Rupp Arena public address announcer Patrick Whitmer told the crowd he would alert them to Southeastern Conference football scores. This unusual announcement created an immediate stir of anticipation. Whitmer, who apparently knows something about drama, saved UK's 10-7 victory for last, milking the moment to the fullest by announcing Tennessee's score first before getting to Kentucky's score.
"That may go down as one of the greatest wins in the history of our athletic department," said UK Coach John Calipari, who began his post-game news conference by saluting Joker Phillips' football team. "If you have coached, you would say that's unbelievable."
As for basketball, Kentucky took the lead for good barely five minutes into the game and stayed comfortably ahead.
Calipari, who no doubt sees his coaching duties as keeping UK striving despite one-sided victories, lamented a "sloppy" start. The Cats must defend three-point shooters better.
But it was hard to argue with 20 assists and only four turnovers, the latter a low in Calipari's three seasons as coach and fewest for a UK team since at least the 1993 NCAA Tournament (two against Utah).
"That's really good," said Darius Miller, who seemed startled by the assist-to-turnover ratio.
UK (6-0) placed five players in double figures for the fourth time. Terrence Jones and Miller led the Cats with 19 points each. Marquis Teague added 14, Anthony Davis 13 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 11.
Portland (2-4) used three-point shooting and heady play to make it competitive. Nemanja Mitrovic, who came into the game mired in a shooting slump, made six of 12 shots from beyond the arc and scored 20 points. Coming into Rupp, he had made only nine of 31 three-point shots.
Teammate Tanner Riley, who had made three of 10 three-point shots, hit four (of six) against UK and finished with 14 points.
"We're going to play Florida," Calipari said in heightening the concern about defending three-point shots. "They will take 35 three-pointers. That means they'll win by 108 points."
Kentucky continued to be a stranger to a halftime deficit. The Cats rode defense to a 38-26 halftime lead against Portland.
A slow start — hangover from UK's football victory over Tennessee earlier in the day? — put Kentucky behind early. A three-pointer by Mitrovic put Portland ahead 7-6 and prompted a Kentucky timeout with 16 minutes left.
When asked if he could explain the relatively slow start, Miller said, "Not really, besides our (lack of) intensity."
Portland made only three of its next 18 shots as Kentucky took charge. Seven different UK players scored in a 25-8 run that established a 31-15 lead. That margin would have been greater had Teague not missed two layups.
Kentucky's pressure defense took a toll. Twice Portland could not inbound the ball (a five-second violation and a walk by the inbound man).
By making six of its 12 three-point shots in the first half, Portland stayed competitive. The Pilots were still within single digits (34-26) when Riley hit a trey with 61 seconds left and the shot clock buzzing.
Kentucky did not put Portland away early in the second half. With Mitrovic hitting a pair of three-pointers early, the Pilots were within 43-37 at the first television timeout.
Shortly after football hero Matt Roark did the "Y," Kentucky did a number on Portland. With the defensive intensity clearly increased, Davis cashed in a Pilots turnover with a flying dunk.
Then Kidd-Gilchrist stole a pass before Portland could advance to midcout and drove to a high-flying dunk. "Yeah, that's crazy," he said with a wide smile when a reporter noted the memorable dunk. "Steal the ball. Dribble. Just dunk it. That's my game."
Twenty-seven seconds after Roark took a bow at center court, Portland called timeout to ponder a 49-37 deficit.
The margin grew to 58-39 by the second TV timeout. Portland scored only once in that span as the inevitability of Kentucky's victory hit home.