UK Men's Basketball

Cats too good from the start

Sip the champagne. Puff on the cigars. Check for a hotel room at the Final Four.

Well, scratch that third one ... for now.

The John Calipari era began in grand style Friday night as Kentucky's talented youngsters thoroughly whipped a veteran Morehead State team 75-59. But it wasn't that grand.

The victory made Calipari happy. He saw inspired play from All-American candidate Patrick Patterson and backup — or is that 1-A? — point guard Eric Bledsoe.

Patterson answered the call for more dominant play with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Starting in place of John Wall, who sat as part of an NCAA-ordered punishment, Bledsoe set a UK record for scoring by a freshman in his collegiate debut with 24 points.

While Bledsoe's seven turnovers might have been another such record (understandable given his 37-minute workload), what caused Calipari to scoff at the notion of anyone taking bows cut to the heart of how he thinks basketball should be played.

"When I coached the last four years, I didn't have to beg my team to compete," Calipari said. "I'm so used to it, when I don't see it, I'm losing my mind."

Calipari cited inattention to defensive detail such as failing to stay in a stance or allowing the ball to get to the basket area too easily.

But Morehead State, which got UK's attention because it returned four starters from an NCAA Tournament team, still had troubles. Star big man Kenneth Faried, who had 25 double-doubles last season, struggled to 17 points and seven rebounds.

Morehead Coach Donnie Tyndall noted UK's size. "We have one guy who fits that description," he said of Faried. "They have four."

Maze Stallworth, who set a school record with 87 three-point baskets last season, made only two of 15 shots (one of 12 from three-point range). Tyndall noted that Stallworth had missed almost a week of practice because of a concussion.

Led by Patterson, Kentucky threatened to KO Morehead State in the first half. UK twice led by as much as 14 points before the Eagles rallied late to reduce the lead to 33-25 at halftime.

To explain his production, Patterson noted the encouragement he got from Calipari and assistant John Robic.

"He and I sat down and had a little heart-to-heart," Calipari said. "... It was great to see him bust out. He should be a 20-and-12 guy. I'd say 25 and 15 is what he needs to be."

Robic added a pointed observation. "I'm still waiting to see how you play," the assistant told him, Patterson said.

Patterson, who had been prodded by Calipari after taking only seven shots against Campbellsville, took eight in the first half. He seemed animated from the tip, scoring nine of the Cats' first 14 points. His second putback inside the first eight minutes extended the early lead to 14-5. That prompted a Morehead State timeout with 12:22 left.

Patterson also made the first three-point basket of his career en route to 14 first-half points.

Led by Patterson, UK dominated inside. The Cats outrebounded Morehead State 43-24 and enjoyed a 26-8 advantage in points in the paint before a lackluster final few minutes.

"For us to get outrebounded by 19, when that's a huge emphasis for us, credit to them," Tyndall said.

Faried's first basket came with 3:14 left in the first half. Stallworth did not get a basket until 4:46 remained in the game.

Yet Morehead State prevented the margin from reaching cartoonish proportions.

By the first TV timeout of the second half, Kentucky extended the game-long lead beyond 14 points for the first time. The Cats outscored Morehead State 11-2 inside the first five minutes of the half to take a 44-27 lead with 15:52 left.

Two baskets by Patterson keyed the run and showed his newfound versatility. On the first, he bulled inside for a putback of a missed free throw.

On the second, he streaked downcourt and took a long pass from Bledsoe for a fast-break layup.

At the 15:19 TV timeout, Patterson had a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

As Kentucky controlled the game, Bledsoe gave fans reasons to get excited. Like somebody trying to squeeze into a crowded subway car, he twisted between two defenders and flipped in a layup to put UK ahead 46-29 with 12:52 left.

Later, Bledsoe outdid himself by again getting into the lane. This time he flipped up a blind shot as he stumbled from a bump. The ball went in to put Kentucky ahead 56-39.

After a Faried dunk off a lob pass gave Morehead State a reason to believe, Bledsoe hit a jumper while being fouled.

Their play secured starting sports for Patterson and Bledsoe, Calipari said. Wall, who returns Monday against Miami (Ohio), will be a third starter.

"Then we have to get the other guys to compete," said Calipari, who felt compelled to list what he liked. "I like my team. I'm so happy John Wall will be back. And I'm happy with what I saw from Eric and Patrick.

"We'll build from there."

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