Kentucky takes down WKU in NCAA opener, 81-66

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 15, 2012 

  • Next for the Cats

    Kentucky will face No. 9 seed Iowa State in the third round after the Cyclones beat UConn on Thursday night. Tip will be at approximately 7:45 p.m., 30 minutes after Marquette-Murray State. Source: UK Athletics Department

LOUISVILLE — A telling moment in Kentucky's 81-66 victory over Western Kentucky on Thursday night came early in the second half. That's when UK Coach John Calipari instructed Anthony Davis on dunking etiquette after the freshman received a technical foul for hanging onto the rim a tad too long.

With dunks accounting for six of its first 12 second-half baskets, UK got plenty of practice in perfecting basketball's ultimate take-that.

A thumping of Western in the NCAA Tournament's second round served multiple purposes. It improved UK's record to 33-2, faded the memory of Sunday's loss to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals and propelled the Cats to a game Saturday against Iowa State, a 77-64 winner over Connecticut later Thursday night.

Maybe most important, Kentucky met its goal of re-establishing a running game, which led to the many dunks.

The Cats reminded everyone of "our identity being a transition team," said Terrence Jones, whose 22 points and 10 rebounds marked his third double-double in the last five games.

"We felt teams were thinking we were out of shape," Jones said. Florida center Patric Young said just that in the SEC Tournament.

"We weren't tired," Jones said. "That was crazy. We're one of the most in-shape teams in the country."

Western, which came into the game with a Ratings Percentage Index of No. 189, finished the season at 16-19. The Hilltoppers were the 21st team to play in the NCAA Tournament despite a losing regular-season record.

Before a Western shot hit the rim, Kentucky led 6-0.

Although the Hilltoppers competed well, Kentucky cruised to a 45-26 halftime lead. That marked UK's largest halftime lead since a 27-point bulge at South Carolina on Feb. 4.

Jones and Doron Lamb, relative graybeards as sophomores, led the offense. Jones scored 15 first-half points, which represented more than he'd had in 19 previous games this season.

Lamb added 14 (or more than he'd had in 18 previous games). Each player made six of eight shots to lead Kentucky's blistering 61.5 percent shooting half.

"I know I was a little nervous (as a freshman)," Jones said in welcoming a leadership role. "And the pressure last year (on freshmen) wasn't like this year."

Jones and Lamb accounted for nine of UK's first 10 points. The Cats led 10-0 less than three minutes into the game.

While UK went to Jones in the post on its first possession, Western tried to answer with George Fant. But Fant hit only the backboard on his shot.

With T.J. Price hitting a pair of three-pointers, Western took a 12-10 lead.

But the Hilltoppers' only lead of the game vanished within 28 seconds. Jones put UK ahead for good at 14-12 on a layup with 13:58 left. The shot gave Jones 1,001 points in his two-season UK career. He finished at 1,017.

As the second half began, Kentucky quickly dashed any Western hopes of mounting one of its signature comebacks. The Hilltoppers rallied from 16 down in the final five minutes in the First Four victory Tuesday over Mississippi Valley State.

On its first possession of the second half Thursday, guard Jamal Crook threw a low-post feed too far in front of Fant. The ball went out of bounds, and WKU Coach Ray Harper sat back in his seat and threw up his hands.

Jones put an exclamation on a big night for himself and Kentucky by taking a fast-break pass from Marquis Teague and soaring to a one-handed dunk over 6-foot-11 Teeng Akol.

"He's the same guy," teammate Darius Miller said of Jones' big night. "He's just taking it upon himself to dominate the game."

With Jones leading the way, Kentucky got what Miller called the "easy baskets in transition" that blew away Western.

One caveat: UK got to run despite only forcing 10 Western turnovers. Good defense (the Hilltoppers made only 10 of their first 37 shots) ignited the UK break.

"We want to make teams keep up with us," Miller said.

Western didn't score until almost three minutes into the second half.

By then, Kentucky led 50-26 and bore no resemblance to Mississippi Valley State.

The technical on Davis came with 14:22 left. He also got one at Mississippi State on Feb. 21.

"They said I pulled myself up," Davis said of the latest technical foul. "I thought I was going to fall. The refs saw it otherwise."

As Western got ready to shoot the technical free throws, Calipari called over Davis and raised both hands in a grasping motion.

Calipari told Davis the player's safety comes first.

"He said just hang on the rim," Davis said.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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