Cats cruise past E. Michigan, into SEC play

Alex Poythress

The national pollsters may still need a "prove it" game from Kentucky, but Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy said that's no longer necessary for him after watching the unranked Wildcats pound his team 90-38 Wednesday night at Rupp Arena.

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The national pollsters may still need a "prove it" game from Kentucky, but Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy said that's no longer necessary from his persepective after watching the unranked Wildcats pound his team 90-38 Wednesday night at Rupp Arena.

"They look like a top 10 team," said Murphy, whose Eagles have previously played highly-regarded Michigan (93-54) and Syracuse (84-48).

"With (Ryan) Harrow's improvement and their size and athleticism, I think Kentucky will be a team that makes an Elite Eight run."

Kentucky (9-4) bounced back from an 80-77 loss at Louisville on Saturday with one its most complete games of the season. Offensively, the Wildcats shot 52 percent from the field, 75 percent at the line and made 10 3-pointers. Defensively, UK held Eastern Michigan (7-6) to 24 percent from the field and dominated the glass to the tune of 52-27 in its final non-conference test prior to SEC play.

UK coach John Calipari liked how his team executed against an Eastern Michigan zone defense which had held opponents to 59.9 points per game entering the game.

"This team beat Purdue (47-44) now," Calipari said. "And Michigan and Syracuse, they were within 8 to 10 for a long time in those games and then those teams broke away from them. So this defense that they play is a tough defense."

The Wildcats carved up the EMU zone with a balanced attack that saw five players reach double figures, led by 17 for Kyle Wiltjer off the UK bench. Alex Poythress followed with 16, Harrow scored 15 to go along with eight assists, while Julius Mays and Willie Cauley-Stein added 13 and 11, respectively.

Cauley-Stein, who earned a starting role for the second straight game in what Calipari is calling his "big team," responded with a double-double, grabbing 11 rebounds. Fellow freshman big man Nerlens Noel added eight points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots.

"I was concerned about scoring against this team," Murphy said. "We have struggled scoring the basketball all season, but looking at how they protect the paint, hedge ball screens and do a great job with their activity, pressuring the ball, I knew it would be tough. Them starting three big guys, I knew it would be even tougher."

Kentucky led 38-14 at the half, holding EMU to 21 percent shooting (6 of 28) from the floor. UK opened the second half with a 15-0 run and led by as many as 57 in the second half as the reserves and walk-ons closed out the final minutes of the decisive victory.

The Wildcats now have seven more days of "Camp Cal" two-a-day practices remaining before opening SEC play on Jan. 10 at Vanderbilt.

NOTES:

* It marked the first meeting between Kentucky and Eastern Michigan in men's basketball.

* Kentucky started four freshmen (Goodwin, Noel, Poythress and Cauley-Stein) for the first time in four years under Calipari.

* The Wildcats are 9-0 when leading at the half and 0-4 when trailing at the intermission.

* Eastern Michigan's 38 points were the lowest for a UK opponent since Texas Southern managed only 35 against the Cats on Nov. 24, 2007.

* Harrow was 4-for-5 from beyond the 3-point arc, the first time in his college career he has made more than one 3-pointer in a game.

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