- Saturday, November 21 2009 -
Cancun Challenge (at Lexington, KY)
Rider - 63 (Head Coach: Tommy Dempsey) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 92 (Head Coach: John Calipari) - [Ranked 4th by AP and 5th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 51, Rider 26
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Sam Houston State 102 - 92|||||Cleveland State 73 - 49|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats jump on Rider early, roll to 92-63 win
Two days removed from nearly having a coronary while watching his team surrender a Rupp Arena opponent record 18 three-pointers Kentucky coach John Calipari needed only a few minutes to recognize there would be no encore performance.
John Wall slammed in two of his 21 points in Kentucky's win Saturday over Rider. The Cats dug their heels in, focused like they hadn't done before and thrashed a dangerous Rider team 92-63 in front of 23,912 fans at Rupp Arena. Having witnessed the same squad shoot their way past fellow Southeastern Conference favorite Mississippi State a week earlier there was little margin for error.
"This is the same Rider team that beat Mississippi State on the road by (14)," Calipari said. "I was fearful of this game until I saw how we defended early in the game and then I felt fine. The reason is because I have seen us defend the last three games and I knew if they came out and made shots and we would need to get 95."
There was no need to sweat this one out. UK opened up a double digit lead 11 minutes into the game and never saw the advantage dip below 10 again, racing to a 25-point halftime edge before cruising throughout a whistle-happy second half. The Broncs, who came into the game shooting 48.5 percent as a team from three-point range, missed all nine of their triples in the first half and finished just 4-of-17 from beyond the arc.
For a team that had yielded 33 bombs the past two games, including two astonishing individual shooting displays, the suffocating defensive display was a welcome sign of growth.
"We went and showed them the tape of the (previous) three-point shots, the lack of communication and transition defense and it some of the stuff was almost hysterical," Calipari said. "They were laughing at each other. The thing I told them was at some point there had to be a sense of urgency defensively and we had it, we really did. If there is a sense of urgency you won't give up the threes.
"It was the first shootaround they came with a sense of urgency and focus, which means they were more concerned with their teammates than themselves. It flowed easy. They listened."
As is typically the case with painfully young teams it often takes an outside stimulus to get them honed in on the job at hand. The Broncs perhaps helped dig their own grave by so easily dispatching of Mississippi State seeing as how the Cats were well aware the Bulldogs are widely considered the favorite to win the SEC West this season.
"We knew they were a very good team," senior forward Ramon Harris said. "I think that opened their eyes, that this team was for real and not just any team we put on our schedule. They could have come in here and beat us."
"You are seeing the stepping stones and learning what Coach Cal wants from us on offense and defense," freshman guard John Wall added.
There were signs of marked improvement all over the court. Wall had 11 assists and just two turnovers after making several silly miscues two nights earlier against Sam Houston State, while freshmen big men DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton combined for 32 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in dominating the paint. But it was still difficult to ignore the way the Cats defended the three-point line.
"I know they have taken a bad rap for some of the three-pointers that have gone in against them but I watched every game and a couple of kids just went nuts against them," Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. They hit tough, fall-away, in-your-face threes. I watched the film and said to myself, 'If we have to hit shots like that to stay in the game it's going to be a long night.' I don't think it was strictly a product of Kentucky not playing defense."
Rider found out the hard way how good Kentucky may eventually be if it actually defends with a purpose.
Daniel Orton dunks
Eric Bledsoe drives against Rider's Mike Ringgold