Kentucky's first victory of the season also served as a coming-out party for freshman Darius Miller.
Miller scored a career-high 13 points as Kentucky beat outclassed Delaware State 71-42 Saturday in Rupp Arena.
Miller, who totaled 12 points in the two losses that started UK's season, played the kind of all-court game that fills up a stat line (four assists, three rebounds, a steal).
But before dropping confetti and tooting horns in celebration of Miller and sweet (if belated) victory, Kentucky acknowledged Delaware State's style. The Hornets' relatively passive game factored into so few UK turnovers (just 12 after 53 in the first two games) and the Cats' improved play.
"We'd like to say we've gotten better," point guard Michael Porter said after his turnover-free 16 minutes. "But the way they played, we don't know yet."
Delaware State Coach Greg Jackson admitted his team couldn't match the unnerving pressure applied by Virginia Military Institute and North Carolina in earlier victories over Kentucky.
"We don't have the guards to pressure their guards," he said.
But Jackson all but wondered aloud if that kind of pressure would have been enough to beat Kentucky this day.
"You could see in their eyes, they wanted to make a statement," he said. "We couldn't match their intensity. Not only intensity, but talent level."
So Jackson brushed off a question about fatigue as a factor. Delaware State was playing its fourth road game in six days.
"We could have come in with a full tank (of energy)," he said, "and probably had the same result."
Kentucky, which plays Longwood on Monday night in the second game of the Las Vegas Invitational before going to the desert, jumped on Delaware State immediately.
On the game's first possession, Ramon Harris crowded Delaware State's Marcus Neal near mid-court. After his turnover (one of 13 in the first half by the Hornets), Neal held out his hands palms up as if to gesture for a foul.
Before the game ended, Delaware State's 22 turnovers included a full-course menu of miscues created by good defense: five-second held ball, five-second count to inbound, 10-second count to cross mid-court.
"Our halfcourt defense, when teams have to set up, I think will be exceptional," said UK Coach Billy Gillispie, who had liked the Cats' half-court defense at North Carolina on those occasions when the Cats prevented transition offense.
Delaware State conveniently did not look to fast break, a factor in its 31-percent shooting and one three-point basket. VMI and North Carolina had each made double-digit three-pointers.
Without having to deal with full-court pressing or trapping, Kentucky reduced its turnovers. And many of the turnovers committed were of a higher quality. Five of the first 10 came on attempts to get the ball into the low post.
"Those are definitely better turnovers," Porter said. "You never want to say it's a good turnover. But you'd rather have turnovers going to the basket rather than going away from the basket because those (going away) lead to buckets for the other team."
As for rebounding, Gillispie had lamented VMI and North Carolina each getting double-digit offensive rebounds. Delaware State, which started no one taller than 6-foot-7, had only one offensive rebound in the first half and eight for the game.
All these positive developments made for a complete, if largely unexciting, Kentucky victory.
"For the most most, we had more organized offensive possessions," Gillispie said. "It was a lot easier to get more organized against less pressure."
The Cats scored the game's first five points, never trailed and extended the first-half lead to as much as 17 points. Kentucky finished putting Delaware State away in the second half.
UK's intensity showed repeatedly, never more memorably than when Miller, Porter and Jodie Meeks took turns going to the floor for a loose ball. Meeks, who made amends for a poor-shooting game at North Carolina with a team-high 22 points, finally controlled the ball and flipped a pass to Patrick Patterson, who threw long to a wide-open Harris. Harris' dunk put UK's lead at 44-29.
Later in the half, DeAndre Liggins and Harris passed up wide-open shots to get the ball to Meeks, who hit a three-pointer that increased the lead to 59-31.
Barely two minutes later, Miller hit a three-pointer while being fouled in front of the UK bench. He pounded the floor with his fist in celebration. The four-point play put the Cats ahead 63-35.