John Clay: Kentucky takes it to Arkansas from the start

Overall Performance season's best yet

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 18, 2012 

Anthony Davis set the record, but Darius Miller set the tone.

Second possession Tuesday night in Rupp Arena, Kentucky's senior forward, often criticized for his sometimes passive nature, made a hard drive into the lane and banked the ball off the glass for the game's first points.

Next possession, there went Miller again, penetrating his way into the paint, scoring a basket in traffic while being fouled.

He missed the free throw, but no matter. The statement had been made. The Cats were here to play. That would be all the Cats.

Terrence Jones hit the lane and the boards hard, scoring 13 points, grabbing nine rebounds. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dished out four assists. Doron Lamb popped out of a shooting slump to nail a pair of three-pointers.

Marquis Teague produced nine assists, compared to just three turnovers.

"Marquis played an unbelievable floor game," said UK Coach John Calipari. "Best this year."

And so did Davis, the freakish 6-foot-11 center who scored 27 points and snared 14 rebounds, in addition to setting the single-season blocked-shot record at the school with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball.

Kentucky won 86-63.

More important, "We got better today," said Calipari.

The Cats shot 57.1 percent, compared to 40.4 percent for the Razorbacks, the 52nd straight opponent Calipari's club has held to less than 50 percent.

Kentucky won the boards by 12, blocked a total of 13 shots and made one more assist than turnover (13 to 12) against Arkansas' up-tempo, pressing style, the one designed to force the opponent into turnovers.

This might not quite have been the "scary stuff" Cal rightfully predicted if his team put it all together at the same time, but it was as close to an overall performance as the young edition has managed this year.

To be sure, Arkansas is not among the league's elite. Not yet, anyway. Mike Anderson will get the Hogs running again, but his roster is a hybrid of old and new, with his best player, Marshawn Powell, gone for the year with a torn ACL.

In fact, about the time Kentucky extended the lead to 28 points, 70-42, midway through the second half, someone remarked, "Arkansas fired John Pelphrey for this?"

Still, Kentucky's effort was present from the opening tip, with plenty of highlights.

There was Miller's twist-and-shout basket after the senior grabbed a rebound off a missed Lamb shot and somehow snaked his way to the rim for two and a 17-6 Kentucky lead.

There was Davis tying the record with a rather routine block in the first half around the eight-minute mark, then officially breaking it with his 84th block of the year a few moments later.

Sign of maturity: The first TV timeout after the record-breaker, Davis was seen getting in a teammate's grill for apparently messing up an assignment.

That's a freshman, by the way, a freshman who is on his way to being a team leader.

Second half, when Teague fed Kidd-Gilchrist for an impressive jam, Arkansas called timeout with 14:12 left. And there came Calipari onto the court to shake Teague's hand as the freshman came to the bench.

"If we are getting closer to getting Teague right and getting Terrence Jones right," said Calipari, "that makes a difference."

Miller made a difference, too, finishing with 11 points, hitting five of eight shots. He admitted he wanted to show a little more fire early.

"Coach had talked to me about that," he said afterward. "Instead of them taking it to me, I wanted to take it to them."

He wasn't alone.

Neither was the record-setting Davis.

Said Jones, "I thought a lot of people had their best games."

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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