Anticipation hung in the air on the game's first possession. Patrick Patterson took a feed in the low post, pivoted to the basket and ...
Tore the rim off? No.
Missed a point-blank layup? Alas, yes, which fit in the puzzling slow start this season that he attributed to the rust accumulated from off-season ankle surgery.
Then Patterson didn't miss again until the final two minutes of the first half, and he only missed two other shots all night.
In one of his most dominating performances, Patterson led Kentucky to a 91-57 victory over ill-named Longwood Monday night in Rupp Arena.
The Lancers had little tall timber, starting only one player taller than 6-foot-5. Surely that contributed to Patterson's career-high 28 points. UK's big man also pulled down 12 rebounds (he's had more only once) and got credit for a career-high six assists.
But the opponent's lack of size had nothing to do with Patterson's zeal. His active night included four blocks, three steals, an easy-to-hear warning to teammate Michael Porter of an upcoming screen, banging his upper back on the court in a fall and needing to plug one nostril to stop bleeding caused by an opponent's elbow.
Patterson linked his return to dominance to a talk with his parents and UK coaches. They reminded him of his importance to Kentucky's team.
"My father said to be more of a vocal leader," Patterson said. "How I was more passionate last year. Bring the fire of last year to this year."
That raised an immediate question. Patterson came into this season as the unquestioned leader of UK's team and its All-America candidate. So why did he need reminding of his status as top Cat.
Maybe it was team-first attitude run amok.
"I'll get it in my mind, I don't need to be the only leader on this team," he said. "(The coaches) tell me, other than Jodie (Meeks), I'm one of the most respected players on the team. What I do, whether positive or negative, they'll follow and do."
Kentucky, which improved to 2-2, got 17 points from Meeks. Josh Harrellson chipped in career-high points (12) and rebounds (seven), each a reflection of UK's overwhelming advantage inside. The Cats enjoyed a 54-16 avalanche in points in the paint.
Longwood, a school in Farmville, Va., and in its second season as a full-fledged member of Division I, slipped to 3-3. Ryan Bogan led the Lancers with 20 points. His six three-pointers were one shy of a Rupp Arena record for a UK opponent.
Patterson surpassed his previous season high for points in the first half. He also posted his eighth career double-double by halftime. His 22 points and 10 rebounds propelled Kentucky to a 51-24 halftime lead.
A career-high 15 shots testified to Patterson's new-found energy and his teammates' willingness to get him the ball.
"He was the dominant player on both ends," said UK Coach Billy Gillispie, who usually doesn't swoon at gaudy statistics.
Longwood Coach Mike Gillian noted how it takes a team effort to turn on a post player.
"You still have to make the pass, catch it and put it in," he said. "But everybody has to believe that."
From the start, Kentucky showed its intent on getting Patterson the ball like never before this season and perhaps in his college career.
Patterson scored 12 of the Cats' first 22 points. Three other points (a shot by freshman DeAndre Liggins from beyond the arc) came from a Patterson low-post pass.
"We did a better job looking for him," Gillispie said. "He did a better job posting and receiving. But he played with a lot more energy, a lot more confidence. He played like he should have played."
Combined with a stifling defense, Kentucky never trailed. The Cats scored the game's first seven points and extended the early lead to 31-7 with 10:31 left in the half.
Bogan's long-range shooting kept the margin from reaching a cartoon level. His fifth three-pointer brought Longwood within 14, 38-24.
Then Kentucky scored the final 13 points of the half, six by Patterson, to hold a commanding lead at the break.
Patterson equaled his previous career-high of 24 (against Tennessee Tech last season) with 15:20 left. He took Liggins' inbounds at the basket, gathered himself and banked it home.
Patterson went to the bench, where UK's trainer worked on his right foot. He twisted his right ankle on the play. Patterson had off-season surgery on his left ankle.
Not to worry. Patterson returned less than two minutes later. His final basket brought a roar from the crowd. He caught a pass from Liggins and dunked in one motion. That extended Kentucky's lead to its zenith (81-40) with 6:55 left.
When Patterson went to the bench with 5:45 left, a manager told him he needed four assists for a triple-double.
"If I'd known that, I would have passed the ball a lot more," he said.
Told that only one Kentucky player, Chris Mills in 1988-89, has recorded a triple-double, Patterson said, "Now I wish I really would have gotten it. I could be one of the record-holders."
To get to UK's upper echelon, Patterson only needs more performances like Monday night's.