As if to practice the modus operandi going forward against better competition, Kentucky flexed its defensive muscles against Central Michigan on Monday night.
Kentucky limited the Chippewas to one basket — and that one needed the assist of a goaltending call — for more than 16 minutes en route to an 84-52 victory.
Even if injuries deprived Central Michigan of its best big man and its leading scorer, and contributed to a Ratings Percentage Index of 283, UK's attention to defense stood out.
Central Michigan's 31.0-percent shooting accuracy threatened a season-low for a Kentucky opponent: 30.3 percent by Longwood. And the Chippewas needed a basket by Jeremy Allen with one second left to avoid that dubious distinction.
UK (11-3) stretched its season's best winning streak to six games. The Cats figure to need stingy defense beginning with the next game — at No. 18 Louisville on Sunday.
Central Michigan fell to 3-9.
Jodie Meeks led UK with 23 points. Patrick Patterson added 15 while Josh Harrellson and Michael Porter chipped in with 12 each. For Porter, that marked a career high and his first double-digit scoring game for Kentucky.
Suffocating, unrelenting defense pushed Kentucky to a 42-23 halftime lead. It also made irrelevant a slow start that saw Central Michigan twice establish nine-point leads.
Noting Central Michigan's deep playbook as "50 plays," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said the best counter measure was pressure on the ball. The Chippewas got pushed too far from the basket to initiate any of the plays.
"They didn't set screens as much as they do," Gillispie said. "You saw a lot of dribble-penetration stuff, and that's not their game."
But Central Michigan did not put the ball in the basket the last 11:03 of the half. In that span, the Chippewas missed 17 shots. An 18th shot counted for two points only because the referees called Perry Stevenson for goaltending with 41.1 seconds left.
Earlier in the half, the Chippewas executed crisply and had much the better of it. With 17:49 left, freshmen Darius Miller and Landon Slone replaced Meeks and DeAndre Liggins.
Three straight three-pointers gave Central Michigan a 13-4 lead with 14:16 left. The lead stood at 15-6 barely a minute later when the game changed dramatically.
Slone got the charge started (and the crowd excited) by hitting a three-pointer. That began a 13-2 run that put UK ahead 19-17.
Meeks' first basket — a contested leaner on a drive — put Kentucky ahead for good at 21-19 with 7:38 left. It also began a 21-2 run.
Meeks added nine more points in the run, finishing the half with 11.
Porter had the prettiest score. After his trap with A.J. Stewart yielded a turnover, Porter converted with a left-handed layup while being fouled on the fast break.
After making seven of its first 12 shots, Central Michigan finished the half with 27.6-percent shooting accuracy (8-for-29). Its two leading scorers going into the game — Allen and Marcus Van — made only three of 13 attempts.
The second half brought more of the same.
Central Michigan did not make a basket until Jacolby Hardiman made a layup contested by two defenders with 14:51 left. That marked the first time Central Michigan made a basket without benefit of a goaltend since the 11:03 mark of the first half — a span of more than 16 minutes. In that time, the Chippewas missed 20 shots and got credit for a basket on the goaltend.
"They really got into us defensively and had our offense out of sync," Central Michigan guard Jordan Bitzer said. "After those first eight minutes, they started to pressure us and we had to start our offense out near half-court. It's hard to score that way."
Of UK sustaining its defense despite the comfort of a huge lead, Gillispie quipped, "We'd already taken our siesta."
The UK coach added that the Cats were "maturing and not playing to the scoreboard."
Kentucky kept expanding its lead through the second half.
The only disquieting moment came with 18:10 left. Meeks got knocked to the floor as Central Michigan's Antonio Weary made an intentional foul from behind to prevent a breakaway basket.
Meeks got up, made one of two free throws and Kentucky continued on its merry way.