LOUISVILLE — Hampton's quotable coach, Edward Joyner, Jr., said his team had a one-in-a-billion chance against unbeaten Kentucky.
Before his team left town earlier in the week, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino noted Olympic hockey's most famous upset, the Miracle on Ice, when college students from the United States shocked the mighty Soviet Union team in the 1980 Olympics.
"If that can happen," Pitino said, "anything can happen."
Then Kentucky made its opening game in this NCAA Tournament resemble an early-round tennis match in which the top-ranked player handily beats an outmatched opponent.
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With predictable ease, UK smashed Hampton 79-56 Thursday night to thrive-and-advance into a Saturday game against Cincinnati. It was UK's second-most lopsided NCAA Tournament victory in John Calipari's six seasons as coach. Only the 100-71 victory over East Tennessee State to begin the 2010 NCAA Tournament had a larger margin.
Yet, Calipari was not entirely pleased. The Cats started slowly, prompting a mass substitution before the first television timeout.
"That's on me," Andrew Harrison said. "I started out sluggish. It won't happen again."
Kentucky also didn't finish the game crisply, which Calipari attributed to a late start made later (10:18 p.m. EDT) because the Cincinnati-Purdue game went into overtime. That meant more idle time for the Cats.
"I'm going to chalk it up to that, and move on," Calipari said.
The first three NCAA Tournament games here gave romantics hope that Hampton might play David to Kentucky's Goliath. Worse-seeded teams UAB and UCLA beat better-seeded teams Iowa State and SMU by identical 60-59 scores in the afternoon. Then Cincinnati rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final minute to tie Purdue at 59-59. Hmmm. Cincinnati won 66-65 in overtime.
But Hampton, which had a Ratings Percentage Index of 251 (33 spots lower than Southeastern Conference cellar dweller Missouri), was no match for Kentucky.
"As good as advertised," Joyner said of Kentucky. "They don't have a recognizable weakness for us (to exploit)."
Quinton Chievous, who formerly played for Tennessee, led the Pirates with 22 points and 10 rebounds (his second double-double in two NCAA Tournament games).
Karl-Anthony Towns led Kentucky with 21 points and 11 rebounds, which marked his eighth double-double of the season. Andrew Harrison added 14, while Tyler Ulis and Trey Lyles added 11 and 10, respectively.
The crunching took a few minutes to begin. Kentucky led 18-14 with about eight minutes left in the first half. Then a 14-0 run put the Cats firmly in control and headed toward a 41-22 lead at intermission.
UK showed it would not let a less-than-competitive game distract it from using its size advantage. The Cats' starters were a collective 28 inches taller, and it showed. With Towns leading the way with 12 points, "bigs" accounted for 28 of Kentucky's 41 first-half points. Only three times this season has Kentucky had more than the 44 points from the paint scored against Hampton.
"That's the game plan for a lot of our games," Devin Booker said. "We have so many talented bigs with Karl, Willie and Dakari. We know that if we throw it to them, not only can they score, but teams are going to double down on them. And that leaves us open on the wing. Coach stressed the fact to just get them touches."
Hampton, which was playing without its leading scorer and rebounder (Dwight Meikle), had even less chance to compete when Emmanuel Okoroba (at 6-8 one of Hampton's tallest players) picked up three fouls in two minutes and went to the bench.
Size helped Kentucky build a 22-12 advantage in points from the paint in the first half. It also put Hampton in deep foul trouble. The Pirates, who ranked No. 332 in the nation in fouls committed, had 13 in the first half. Kentucky shot the one-and-one less than eight minutes into the game.
Nothing much changed in the second half.
As for Saturday (2:40 p.m. EDT tip-off), Calipari suggested that Cincinnati will compete.
"They're not going to be afraid of us," he said.