LOUISVILLE, Ky. --- Coming off an emotional victory over archrival Louisville, some may have predicted Kentucky would come out flat Wednesday in its matchup with Tulane.
To the contrary. The six-ranked Wildcats came out intent on flattening the Green Wave.
Kentucky (9-2) placed five players in double-figures, knocked down a season-high 16 3-pointers and used several scoring runs on its way to a 101-67 rout of Tulane at Freedom Hall. Tayshaun Prince led the blowout with 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting, while Keith Bogans and Gerald Fitch each followed with 16. Rashaad Carruth and Cliff Hawkins added 11 and 10, respectively.
The Cats raced to a 19-4 lead in the game's first seven minutes and added runs of 12-3, 22-3 and 17-5 before it was over.
"I thought our kids showed a lot of character, a lot of poise," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "That's what it takes to stick with the game plan, to not be thinking about the past, and focus in on this one game.
"I think our guys are really starting to mature, and we're getting good leadership from Tayshaun as far as setting the tone for people understanding how to prepare for games."
"I think Kentucky is by far the best team we've played this season," said Tulane coach Shawn Finney, who served as a UK assistant under Smith from 1998-2000. "They are definitely a top-five team that has a chance at being one of the best in the country.
"They have depth and weapons. Guys who can score on the block and guys who can step out and shoot the three. And then they have defensive stoppers in Gerald Fitch and Jules (Camara), who with his quickness around the basket, makes it hard to shoot over him. They have a lot of versatility, they play well in the half-court and in the open court with all the ball handlers they have."
The UK players are starting to sense the team is gelling, an important key heading into Southeastern Conference play this weekend.
"We are getting better each game," Bogans said. "We know that we can't afford to take a night off. I think we are playing well right now, but I also think we can get a lot better, especially at defense. That is the mentality we want to have. We want to come out and play the same way each game no matter what name is across their chests. When we play like we played tonight, it's going to be tough for anybody to beat us."
"A lot of guys shot the ball well today, and there were some outstanding individual efforts," said Hawkins, who also had five of UK's 20 assists. "I think (Gerald) Fitch played really well tonight. Different players are stepping up each night to carry their part of the load, and it's translating into wins and good team basketball for us."
Kentucky made that clear from the start as Prince and Jules Camara had each scored four points to stake their team to an 11-2 lead. Smith called upon the bench just under the 15:00 mark, and Carruth, Marquis Estill and Chuck Hayes each responded with baskets. Estill, a center, and Hayes, a power foward, hit the first of UK's 16 treys on the night to make it 19-4.
"The guys were very active and got off to a good start," Smith said. "We had some guys shoot well. It's good to start the new year this way."
Tulane (8-3) pulled within eight at the 4:01 mark thanks to the perimeter shooting of Brandon Spann and Waitari Marsh. The guard tandem combined for three treys, and forward Nick Sinville added an old-fashioned three-point play to get the Green Wave back in the game.
The Cats responded with a 12-3 run to close the half and reclaim their commanding lead. Six points by Prince and four by Fitch sent UK into the locker room with a 47-30 advantage.
Tulane opened the scoring in the second half, but Kentucky reeled off 22 of the next 25 to blow the game open. The decisive spurt included 3s by Bogans, Prince and Fitch, as well as crowd-pleasing jams by Prince and Camara.
A Bogans steal and runout gave UK its biggest lead to that point in the game at 69-35.
"They were 'on' offensively and defensively and that put us back on our heels," Finney said. "We wanted to fight back and we got it down to 18 or 20, and for whatever reason we relaxed, and then they popped it back up to 30."
The Cats closed the game with an impressive shooting display (five straight 3s in the final 2:15) to highlight the lopsided victory. Carruth hit three treys in the spur, while fellow reserves Matt Heissenbuttel and Josh Carrier each added one.
Kentucky finished the game 16 of 32 from long range and 39 of 79 (49 percent) overall. The Cats also held a 44-32 rebounding advantage and scored 31 points off 18 Green Wave turnovers.
Fitch, a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard, had a game-high 10 rebounds in recording his second career double-double.
"He plays with such heart and hustle," Smith said. "He sets the tone for us."
"The main thing we wanted to do in this game was get on the offensive glass. We wanted to attack the glass to give us more opportunities," said Prince, who pulled down six rebounds. "We are getting ready for SEC play, so we wanted to come into this game and make a good statement."
Tulane shot 42 percent (25 of 60) from the field. Marsh led the Green Wave with 12 points, while Spann and Brandon Brown each added 11.
Said Finney: "Tubby Smith's defense tonight was outstanding... as it always is."
Kentucky improved to 40-5 all-time against Tulane and 49-15 in Freedom Hall.
The Cats return to action Saturday when they open SEC play at Mississippi State (13-1).
"The SEC is a very balanced league," Smith said. "Mississippi State is a very hot team right now. We just have to stay focused. I'm not really as surprised with them as I am impressed. They are really good."