UK Men's Basketball

Barrage of threes lift UK to easy victory

NEW ORLEANS — Kentucky mocked all the concern about being too young or too inexperienced or too something for the one-and-done pressure of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

Looking every bit like the No. 1 seed in the East Region and a national championship contender, UK put a men-against-boys whipping on 16th-seed East Tennessee State 100-71.

Kentucky (33-2) assumed a 10-point lead less than seven minutes into the game, expanded the margin to 30 late in the first half and breezed into Saturday's second-round game against Wake Forest.

East Tennessee State (20-15) hoped to stay close and rattle Kentucky. UK wanted to crush the Bucs' spirit quickly and decisively. "We did a good job of that today," Daniel Orton said.

As the first half ended with Kentucky ahead 54-26, television commentator Will Perdue turned to scouts from Wake Forest sitting behind him and asked, "Get anything out of that?"

Much laughter ensued as Kentucky reached the century mark in points for the 12th time in NCAA Tournament play. That hadn't happened since a 101-70 victory over Utah en route to the 1996 national championship.

This one was a true laugher. The first half was like a relay race with UK players passing a you-be-the-star-for-a-while baton to one another.

Junior forward Patrick Patterson had it first. Making good on his stated intention to make the most of his first NCAA Tournament game, he scored 11 of Kentucky's first 21 points. Patterson's back-to-back dunks put the Cats ahead 21-10 early.

When he went to the bench for a rest at the 13:24 mark, Patterson's 11 points marked as many as he'd scored in eight earlier games this season. He finished with 22.

"Pretty much everything I thought I'd be," he said of his belated NCAA Tournament debut. "Definitely a lot of fun."

Then Eric Bledsoe took a turn. Bledsoe made eight of nine three-point attempts to break Tony Delk's UK record for an NCAA Tournament game. He finished with a career-high 29 points.

Patterson likened Bledsoe's sharpshooting to Jodie Meeks' 54-point game at Tennessee last season.

"Pretty close to Jodie," Patterson said. "I didn't know Eric could shoot like that."

The fourth of Bledsoe's three-pointers, which left him one shy of a career high, put Kentucky ahead 40-16 with 6:32 left in the half. His eight treys equaled the fourth-highest total for a UK player.

Orton took center stage late in the half. He scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds in nine minutes. But it was his one assist that seemed most memorable.

Orton dribbled down on the fast break and threw a lob that appeared to be a bit too high. But Patterson leaped high enough to grab it and stuff it through. That marked the third UK dunk in less than a minute.

Ramon Harris punctuated Kentucky's highest-scoring half since putting up 57 in the first half against Arkansas on Jan. 23. Harris, whose last three-pointer came in that Arkansas game, put up a shot that appeared to wedge between the basket and the glass before dropping through. That improbable three put Kentucky ahead 54-24 with 1:08 left.

The Cats finished with a season-high 15 three-pointers and breathed life into Coach John Calipari's oft-stated contention that Kentucky rolls when it makes perimeter shots.

When asked what UK could do by shooting like this consistently, DeMarcus Cousins smiled and said, "I believe this tournament would be real easy."

The Cats settled for a 54-26 halftime lead.

John Wall, the hero so often this season, didn't have to make any clutch plays Thursday. He quietly amassed seven assists in 11 first-half minutes. He finished with 11 assists, his highest total since the school-record 16 against Hartford.

Into the second half, the onslaught continued unabated. Bledsoe hit three more treys before the first television timeout.

When Wall hit the first of his three three-pointers, which equaled his career high, the shot gave Kentucky a 72-35 lead with 15:51 left. That was UK's 11th trey. Matching or surpassing the season high — 14 against Hartford — seemed inevitable, as had victory an hour or so earlier.

Wall made UK's 14th three-pointer in style. He banked it in from near the top of the key.

After mocking the thought of freshmen freezing on the big stage, Orton added a thought sure to chill future UK opponents in this tournament.

"We all keep a pretty cool head," he said. "It's a pretty average day for us."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments