Kentucky Sports

Kentucky eases past EKU but provides drama

Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunked Sunday for two of his 10 point as Alex Poythress watched.
Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunked Sunday for two of his 10 point as Alex Poythress watched. Herald-Leader

When asked about how well Kentucky defended Sunday night, Denzel Richardson veered wildly off script. He actually said that he was unimpressed.

"They really (weren't) that good of defenders, to me," he said.

UK's 82-49 thrashing of Eastern Kentucky bore the increasingly familiar signs of Big Blue domination: 11 blocks, an opponent straining to crack double digits in a half, cartoonish shooting (six-for-35 in the first half and 26.1-percent accuracy overall).

Not good defenders?

When told of Richardson's appraisal, EKU Coach Jeff Neubauer smiled broadly. He then put his right hand to his face and wiped his brow.

"We do need to do more media training," he quipped as reporters burst into laughter.

Kentucky, which played without arguably its most tenacious defender (guard Tyler Ulis was ill and did not play), never trailed in a game for the third time this season in improving to 9-0.

EKU, 4-3, narrowly avoided the lowest point total in Neubauer's 10 seasons as coach (a 57-43 loss at Delaware State on Nov. 29, 2011). So he avoided joining Kansas Coach Bill Self and Providence Coach Ed Cooley in watching the lowest point-total in their time at their schools.

"I told (the EKU players) they were just defended by the best defensive team in the modern era of college basketball," said Neubauer, who witnessed his third-most lopsided defeat as EKU coach. The only two more one-sided defeats came against Duke (78-43 on Nov. 25, 2007) and Tennessee (92-58 on Nov. 25, 2005).

The first half ensured that the only question this night would be how many UK fans exited at the Under-eight and Under-four timeouts in the second half. It would have been safe to leave at halftime and be secure in the knowledge that Kentucky would win.

Actually, almost all fans stayed to the end, perhaps to see if UK would fail to hit a three-point shot for the first time since 1988. Aaron Harrison hit one — finally — with 2:55 left to extend UK's streak to 909 games.

In rolling to a 41-14 halftime lead, Kentucky had as many dunks (six) as Eastern Kentucky had baskets (six). EKU made only 17.1 percent of its shots (six of 35). Looking at the bright side, that compared favorably to UT Arlington's four-of-32 shooting against UK on Nov. 25. The Cats led 55-12 at intermission that game.

"Some of the numbers that we're producing right now are kind of silly," said assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for John Calipari in the post-game news conference. "I mean, it's mind-boggling."

How the Cats lobbed and dunked was hard to grasp, too. UK dunked off lobs 10 times.

UK nearly had two more. One alley-oop attempt found Dakari Johnson having to catch a wayward pass, gather himself and go up for a layup. Late in the half, Cauley-Stein reached back for a lob and deflected it toward the basket. It bounced twice off the rim and went into the basket.

"It makes the game fun," Marcus Lee said of the alley oops. "Any kind of lob is fun."

Of course, Kentucky continued to enjoy the defensive end, too.

Neubauer, who said Saturday that Kentucky might have the best defensive team in college basketball history, actually thought EKU might be productive on offense. He envisioned his smaller players spreading the floor with their three-point shooting and then using quickness to get by UK's taller players.

"I actually thought we'd attack them better," he said.

Lee did not embrace Neubauer's best-ever comment.

"It'd be cool," he said. "But the only thing we're really stressing is being the best team we can be. Not really the best team ever. Because if we're the best team we can be, it's great for us."

Kentucky came into the game leading the nation in fewest points allowed, field goal defense and blocks.

The beat-down of Eastern Kentucky was more of the same.

Lee suggested Kentucky has room to get better, thus the numbers Robic referred to can get sillier.

"There's definitely much room," he said. "Like there's a whole lot of room to get better. It's scary how much room there is. We're not even in the middle of the season. So much more practices to go through. So much more time to get used to each other."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader