INDIANAPOLIS — After a couple of so-so starts, No. 1-ranked Kentucky knew it had to elevate its game if it wanted to make an early-season statement Tuesday night against Kansas in the State Farm Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
So, boy, did the Cats elevate.
Using their considerable size advantage, the Cats swatted nearly everything in sight. It was as if Kentucky was on a trampoline all night. Or a pogo stick. Or maybe a rocket launcher. The Cats kept bouncing up and up and blocking one Jayhawk shot after another.
It was ridiculous. How ridiculous? Kentucky blocked as many shots (11) as Kansas had made field goals (11).
All in all, it was one of the best, most dominating defensive performances in recent memory as Kentucky rolled to a 72-40 smashing of the No. 5-ranked team in the nation, which shot 19.6 percent for the game.
"No," said UK Coach John Calipari, opening his postgame news conference. "We're not that good."
"For you guys that cover Kentucky, how much of what John says do you believe," Kansas Coach Bill Self said when told of Calipari's comment. "I'm joking."
Maybe Kentucky isn't as good as it looked Tuesday, but surely the Cats elevated their standing, that is if a team already atop the polls can do such a thing. And they did it with defense.
UK shot just 43.1 percent, falling below 50 percent for the third time in three games, but it didn't really matter. Kentucky's defense was so locked in, Kansas all but locked up.
"We shot badly the first half and then proved we could shoot a helluva lot worse in the second half," Self said. "They had a lot to do with that."
As for Kentucky's platoons, the two units seem to work seamlessly, like a relay unit passing the baton from one to the other and expanding the lead. No clutter. No static. No problem.
To be sure, it's early. Kansas is trying to find itself. Self lost Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid from a year ago. He's trying to find an identity for this band of Jayhawks.
"Bill Self is one of the great coaches," Calipari said afterward. "By the end of the year, they're going to be fine."
It is frightening to imagine what Kentucky could be by the end of the year.
"We've got so many things to figure out," Calipari said.
Still, it was beyond impressive, especially in the early minutes, to see how UK's size dominated the perennial Big 12 champions. Kansas may no longer have Embiid, but the Jayhawks are not a small team and yet after a while you could see Kansas flinch.
"We just brought more energy," said Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kentucky center and Kansas native.
Kansas kept challenging, driving down the lane into the land of the giants and gaining little but a rejection notice. It missed 15 of its first 18 shots. Kentucky had blocked a third (six) of those shots.
By halftime, the block party total read eight. Karl-Anthony Towns had three blocks under his name. Alex Poythress blocked two. So did Marcus Lee.
Kansas went on a 7-0 spurt near the end of the first half and when the horn sounded Kentucky's lead was 38-28. But the Jayhawks started the second half by reverting to their play from much of the first half. That meant missed shots. If the tall Cats didn't block KU shots, they at least altered the direction and claimed the rebound.
"They cover mistakes better than any team I've seen," Self said.
By the way, when Self entered his post-game news ,he took a sip from the water bottle put there for him and said, "I was hoping that was vodka."
He might not be the only coach this season who thinks the same thing after playing Kentucky. For a team with already high expectations, Tuesday might have even elevated those expectations.
"Somebody's going to have to play a great game to beat them," Self said. "That's obvious."