Date story published: Saturday, November 18, 2006
Kentucky originally intended to open the season against Mississippi Valley State.
Last night's game showed why.
UK's 79-56 victory was what opening games are designed to do: Give the vastly superior team a way to ease into the season. Enjoy a good, stress-free workout. Build team confidence and -- pardon this lapse into individuality -- personal statistics.
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Even with senior leader Bobby Perry going to the bench with two fouls barely two minutes after tipoff, the Cats thoroughly dominated winless Mississippi Valley State.
The Delta Devils (0-3) called timeouts three times in the first 10 minutes hoping to slow the onslaught. None worked.
UK guard Joe Crawford noted the difference with Wednesday's opening-game struggle against Miami, Ohio.
"A lot was said," he said of the grumbles about Wednesday's victory representing a continuation of last season. "We wanted to prove we are a better team. It was our first game. We're going to get better."
Mississippi Valley State's first timeout/cry for help came with 17:54 left and Kentucky leading 9-0. Freshman Perry Stevenson's fast-break dunk prompted the timeout, and caused Perry to jump into the air for joy. Mississippi State had only gotten one shot to the rim.
UK's lead reached 15-0 before Mississippi Valley State scored on a put-back at the 15:24 mark. Counting the conclusion of the Miami game, UK had held the opposition scoreless for 14 minutes and 28 seconds.
The second timeout came at the 12:03 mark. UK led 20-5.
The third came with 10:15 left. The lead had ballooned to 25-5 as the Cats pressed and the Delta Devils got "rattled," UK Coach Tubby Smith said.
Until Demarkus Barnes hit a three-pointer with 8:08 left in the first half, Mississippi Valley State had more missed layups (three) than baskets (two).
Point guard Ramel Bradley rebounded from a subpar opener to score a career-high 21 points. Randolph Morris just missed his second straight double-double with 18 points and nine rebounds. Freshman Jodie Meeks had a career-high 13 points.
The one-sided nature of the game allowed Smith to substitute early and often. Senior Sheray Thomas saw his first action of the season after sitting out the two exhibitions and opener against Miami as punishment for breaking a team rule.
"We got good bench work out of our kids coming off the bench," Smith said.
Despite the run-and-fun evening, the UK players showed teamwork. Midway through the first half, freshman Derrick Jasper stole a ball at mid-court (one of 15 Mississippi Valley State turnovers -- as opposed to two assists -- in the opening 20 minutes). Instead of dribbling to an uncontested basket, Jasper tossed the ball ahead so Stevenson could dunk.
"Everybody was looking to give the ball up," Smith said. "Sometimes when they probably should have shot it. I'd rather have it that way than the other."
By then, the game had settled into a mismatch that conjured thoughts of the Harlem Globetrotters and another scripted punching bag, the Washington Generals.
All that was missing was the bucket of confetti trick. But UK fans supplied comic relief.
When Mississippi Valley State scored on back-to-back possessions to close within 18-5, a fan yelled, "Oh no. They're catching up."
After Crawford dunked a fastbreak opportunity to put UK ahead 27-5, a fan could be heard exhorting Crawford, "'D' up, Joe."
Perhaps thoughts of this morning's takeoff for Maui caused the Cats to ease off the accelerator after amassing a 41-18 lead at halftime. Mississippi Valley State, which made only 28 percent of its shots in losing to Ole Miss and Creighton, hit 15 of 30 attempts after halftime. The Delta Devils also had more assists (seven) than turnovers (six), while UK had five assists and nine turnovers.
"Human nature," Smith said. "We told them at halftime: Play to your potential. We have another half to play. Easier said than done."
Kentucky originally scheduled this game as the opener on Nov. 10. But Mississippi Valley State had a game scheduled at Ole Miss (Delta Devils Coach James Green is an Ole Miss graduate), so UK moved this game to last night.
That meant an opener against Miami, Ohio, a much more capable opponent. However, just deserts delayed were not just deserts denied.