LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Shunning the temptation to look past VMI and forward to a weekend matchup with North Carolina, the Kentucky Wildcats put together their most complete performance of the young season Wednesday in a 99-57 win at Rupp Arena.
The Wildcats raced to a 29-12 lead only six and a half minutes into the game, shot a season-high 56 percent from the field and got a double-double from senior forward Tayshaun Prince en route to the easy 'W'.
"I thought tonight we had a good team effort," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "We sustained our defense with a little more intensity for a longer period of time... We tried to make our players aware that they (VMI) were a very good team coming in, and I think our kids were focused and ready to play."
Kentucky (4-1) had not played in a week, an unusual layoff at this time of year. But as bad as some of the players wanted to play this past Saturday, the extra practice time may have paid off.
"We had a great week of practice," said Prince, who scored 21 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. "We worked hard on a lot of the things that we weren't doing all that great, especially our transition game and transition defense."
"More practice helped guys know what their roles are," said junior guard Keith Bogans, who added 16 points, six rebounds and three assists. "I thought we put it all together tonight --- offense, defense, rebounding."
The Cats also got double-figures from post players Marvin Stone (13) and Marquis Estill (11). They outscored the Keydets 46-22 in the paint and held a commanding 50-28 advantage in rebounds.
"They're tough," VMI coach Bart Bellairs said of Kentucky. "I thought they were real physical with us.
"I tried to get the referees to help block out some guys for us, but they didn't but into that."
The Keydets got a stellar 24-point effort from freshman forward Jason Conley, but shot only 33 percent (23 of 70) as a team. They made 11 shots from 3-point range, but attempted a whopping 32, nearly half of their field goal attempts. In addition, they made it to the foul line only three times, missing each one.
The game opened at breakneck pace, the first time this season Kentucky has gotten off to a strong start. Prince converted a three-point play eight seconds into the contest and followed it up with a slashing move to the basket for the first five points of the night. Estill followed with four straight and Bogans drained a jumper to stake UK to a 11-0 lead.
Gerald Fitch, J.P. Blevins and Erik Daniels each hit a 3-pointer in a 13-5 spurt as the Cats' lead grew to 29-12 at the 13:24 mark. A Blevins layup with three seconds left sent UK into the locker room with a 52-33 advantage.
VMI would have been even further behind if not for the play of Conley, who scored 11 straight points for the Keydets in the final 6:52 and had 17 at the break.
"He's a player," Prince said. "We knew he was good looking at film, but sometimes you can't tell just how good a guy is."
"Jason Conley's one of the best players we've had to guard this year," Smith added.
Conley managed only seven points the rest of the night, though, as the Cats' depth took total control of the game.
A 7-0 run midway through the second half, including a Bogans three-point play sandwiched by two Prince baskets, pushed the margin to 69-44.
Kentucky fans then got their first glimpse of freshman guard Rashaad Carruth's ability as he scored seven straight points on a long 3, a baseline jumper and a mid-range shot off a screen and curl. It marked the first game of Carruth's career after sitting out the first four with a severe ankle injury.
"You can see why (he has so much potential)," Smith said. "He can get on a roll and score a lot of points in a hurry... Everytime he shoots the ball, you expect it to go in."
"We saw a great basketball team blossom tonight," Bellairs said, "and we saw what adding another shooter like Carruth can do for you. It makes them very, very tough."
Carruth received standing ovations from the Rupp Arena crowd upon entering the game and exiting for the final time. He also had his teammates standing on the sideline in anticipation each time he fired away for his first collegiate points, missing his first three attempts before hitting three straight and finishing 3-of-7.
"It's a good confidence builder for me going into the North Carolina game," Carruth said. "...The crowd was awesome. I knew the crowd was behind me and looking forward to me coming in when I was at the scorer's table. That made me feel good, like I'm here at home."
Kentucky held VMI to only two points in the final 7:33 of the game.
In addition to their hot percent shooting from the field, the Cats also hit 10 of 20 from 3-point range. That helped them offset a disappointing 18-22 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"I liked our shooting, I didn't like our turnovers," Smith said. "We were kind of feast or famine... You should never have more turnovers than assists."