UK Men's Basketball

UK whips Austin Peay for win No. 1,999

Public address announcer Patrick Whitmer's surefire applause line prior to tip-off — "the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball ..." — barely brought a murmur from the Rupp Arena crowd.

When cheerleaders later carried the giant flag with the interlocking "U" and "K" onto the court and the pep band struck up the theme to the movie 2001, this monolithic symbol of Kentucky basketball moved fans only to stand and clap as if required to sing Jingle Bells for the 2,000th time.

Speaking of the 2,000th time, Kentucky beat Austin Peay 90-69 Saturday to move within one victory of becoming the first college basketball program to reach that round number.

But no one partied like this was 1,999.

Not even John Calipari surpassing Adolph Rupp's record for consecutive victories to begin a tenure as UK coach inspired much enthusiasm.

Nor did UK improving to 11-0 to start a season for the first time since 1992-93 give the fans a tingle.

Austin Peay (7-5) played too smartly and too competitively to let UK uncork a lot of highlight material.

Maybe finals week, the holiday season and a low-profile opponent conspired to make the approaching history seem disconnected from the here and now.

"We came out real sluggish and lazy," freshman DeMarcus Cousins said. "... We should come out every game like we're playing North Carolina."

Austin Peay clearly lacked North Carolina's pedigree and talent. But the Governors' coordinated play made them competitive.

"Obviously, Kentucky is too big and strong inside for us," said Dave Loos, the winningest coach in Ohio Valley Conference history. "When we play someone like that, our margin for error is so thin. And when they start shooting like that ..."

UK outrebounded Austin Peay 44-24 and enjoyed a 44-16 advantage in points in the paint.

As for shooting, the Cats had 50.8 percent accuracy overall, a season-high 66.7 percent from three-point range, and were 18-for-18 from the foul line (the third-best free-throw performance in school history).

Freshman John Wall surpassed his career-high for three-pointers barely six minutes into the game. Two of Wall's three first-half three-pointers came in a 13-second span that fueled a 12-2 run and gave Kentucky the lead for good. He finished with 17 points.

Good night.

Yet Calipari looked beyond the swishes. The 49 points were the most UK had scored in the first half in a month (51 against Rider on Nov. 21). Yet Austin Peay was still around, and within nine points of UK with less than eight minutes left.

"We played like we've practiced this week," Calipari said. "... We were so non-competitive this week because of finals, it carried over to the game."

Calipari complained about the defense, especially in the first half when Austin Peay made 44.8 percent of its shots. Seven of UK's first 10 opponents this season did not shoot that accurately for a game. And neither did Austin Peay (37.5 percent) once the Cats got interested.

Kentucky fans finally got something to get excited about down the stretch.

With less than seven minutes left, Eric Bledsoe, John Wall and Patrick Patterson collaborated on a pretty fast break. Bledsoe threw long to Wall, who leaped for the catch and flipped a touch-pass to Patterson for a dunk.

"I saw John look out the corner of his eye to me," said Patterson, who led Kentucky with 21 points. "I thought he'd lob it, and I just had to dunk it."

UK excited the fans with another fancy play on its next possession. Bledsoe threw a behind-the-back pass on the break to Patterson, who missed the short jumper. But he then tipped in the miss to spark a burst of anticlimactic applause.

The plays put Kentucky ahead 77-61 with 5:50 left.

Style points aside, Calipari knew by then that the Cats would win, and he'd have plenty to discuss during the semester break.

"Today," Calipari said, "I was just trying to shove them over the finish line."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader