A scary injury to wing Ramon Harris took the fizz out of what could have been a festive Kentucky victory Wednesday night.
The Cats routed Lamar 103-61, which marked UK's first 100-point total in a home victory in almost five years (101-72 over Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 23, 2003).
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But a head-to-head collision between Michael Porter and Harris with 13:42 left in the first half muted the Rupp Arena atmosphere.
Porter and Harris collided as they chased a loose defensive rebound at the top of the key. Of the two, Harris appeared the more seriously hurt. The junior lay on the floor on his back for almost eight minutes before being carted off on a stretcher. Teammate Patrick Patterson saw Harris' fingers curl up and tears flow down his cheeks. "Because he was in so much pain," Patterson said.
Harris' mother, Carmen Bowles, came out of her seat to be at her son's side. The crowd rose in quiet, dignified applause as medical personnel took Harris to University of Kentucky Hospital.
At halftime, UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy notified the media that Harris had movement in both arms and legs. After the game, Peevy said Harris would spend the night in the hospital for observation.
Porter required 10 stitches to close a cut over his left eye and watched the second half from the bench.
When asked his reaction to seeing two UK players on the floor in pain, Coach Billy Gillispie said, "Well, you get scared. Those things don't happen often. ... Fear is created a lot of time by the unknown."
After a long pause, and with tears welling in his eyes, Gillispie added in a soft voice, "Those are my kids out there. You feel helpless when you can't help them."
Harris was off to a good start. He made his first three-pointer of the season and threw a lob pass that Jodie Meeks dunked.
"He was playing good," Gillispie said before adding, "Hopefully he'll be OK, and hopefully he'll be back soon. Hopefully he'll be OK, and we'll worry about the rest of that stuff later."
The memory of Harris leaving on a stretcher took away some of the fun in a career-high 31-point night for Patterson, who made 11 of 12 shots.
"When you're playing, we still have 'Mon and how he's doing and is he OK in the back of your mind," Patterson said.
Jodie Meeks added 19 points. Freshman DeAndre Liggins scored 16, which doubled his previous career high (eight against Longwood), equalled a career high of seven rebounds and handed out four assists.
UK, 5-2, plays next on Saturday against No. 22 Miami (Fla.).
Lamar fell to 5-1.
Kentucky never trailed in commanding the first half. Even after the Harris-Porter collision, the Cats remained on task. UK stretched its first-half lead to as much as 29 points down the stretch before settling for a 56-30 margin at intermission.
In noting how well Kentucky kept playing after the collision, Gillispie said, "It's very easy to lose focus and totally lose energy level."
No turnovers in the first seven minutes, and only two in the first 13 minutes. Shooting with 62.5-percent accuracy. Limiting the opponent to 30.3-perecent shooting.
Lamar's troubles also contributed to Kentucky's lopsided victory. The Cardinals' point guard, Kenny Dawkins, and backcourt running mate Brandon McThay combined to make only six of 20 shots.
A technical foul on Lamar Coach Steve Roccaforte led to a four-point UK possession. Roccaforte appeared to protest that McThay had been bumped out of bounds.
Meeks made both technical free throws. Liggins then added a pull-up jumper to complete the four-point trip and give the Cats a 47-20 lead.
That first-half lead reached its zenith on two Meeks free throws that made it 49-20 with 5:12 left.
At halftime, the Cats learned that Harris had not sustained injury to his brain or spinal cord.
"Everybody felt a sigh of relief," Patterson said.
The second half began poorly for Kentucky.
Patterson picked up his third foul 16 seconds into the half and went to the bench. The Cats committed two turnovers within the first 90 seconds to match what took almost 14 minutes to do in the first half.
Even a second technical on Lamar, this time on the bench for apparently protesting a no-call as Jay Brown battled several defenders to score, failed to ignite the Cats.
Kentucky was slogging along, ahead 59-37, when Patterson and Meeks re-entered the game. That did the trick. Patterson roused the crowd with a fast-break dunk. Meeks then made three plays in less than minute: he blocked a shot, then raced downcourt for a fast-break layup.
On the next possession, Meeks hit a fast-break three-pointer.
Victory was secured. But UK's thoughts turned back to Harris and Porter.
When asked who might replace them in the lineup, Gillispie said, "We haven't thought of that yet.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with them."