LeMaster keys UK blowout, 80-40 over Ole Miss

LEXINGTON, Ky -- Seldom-used senior walk-on Preston LeMaster scored a career high 12 points, including two 3-pointers in the first half to give UK its first double-digit lead to lead the 'Cats to a blowout of the Ole Miss Rebels, 80-40.

With Ramel Bradley nursing a broken hand suffered in practice this week out of action, senior guard Preston LeMaster garnered unexpected playing time, and capitalized, scoring a career-high 12 points on 4-5 shooting from 3-point range. LeMaster's first 3-pointer expanded an early two point lead to five, 13-8, with 13:11 to play, and the next one gave UK its first double digit lead of the blowout win, 21-10. The 'Cats would never lead by less than double digits the remainder of the game, winning in a game in which Ole Miss never led.

Thirteen different Wildcats scored, led by Joe Crawford's 17 points. Randolph Morris joined Crawford and LeMaster in double digits with 10, and Rajon Rondo dished 12 assists on the night, a season high.

The Ole Miss Rebels were outmanned heading into the game, and were challenged by the loss of their best player, center Dwayne Curtis. Curtis missed the game to be with his family before his brother's funeral, Jarrod, who died as the result of an automobile accident. Without Curtis, the Rebels were never in the game as the lead ballooned to a 40-17 halftime margin, and later to 44 with 5 minutes to play in the game.

For the third game in a row, Coach Tubby Smith started the game with stars Rondo, Morris and Crawford on the bench, rewarding players who grade highest in practice with starting nods. The tactic has proved to spur on the 'Cats, who received support from previously seldom used players like senior Brandon Stockton and LeMaster. Coach Smith gave credit to both in the win.

"Tonight's game was one that I thought we played the right way. We executed and kind of set the tempo. I thought that Brandon [Stockton] ran the team well. He took that charge right away that sent a message defensively."

Smith continued, "Most people are pulling for someone who really hasn't had a chance (like LeMaster). When he steps up like that, we can all identify with that. He is at every practice and doing everything that the starters are doing. We haven't had any games this year where we've had this type of opportunity to give him this chance to play."

Make no mistake about it, tonight was LeMaster's night. He had never played more than seven minutes in a game at Kentucky. Tonight he played 19. His previous high scoring outing was as a freshman on January 2, 2003, where he scored five points against Alcorn State. He eclipsed that total with more than 10 minutes to play in the first half. And in what may be LeMaster's crowning achievement, he even surpassed the career high point total in a single game of another LeMaster--Jim, Preston's Dad, who played for Kentucky from 1965-1968, and whose high game was 10 points against Auburn.

The good play was team-wide, of course. Kentucky shot 50% for the game (43% from 3-point range), and shot 77% from the free throw line, including making all ten chances in the first half. Ole Miss was held to 22.4% field goal shooting, including only 18.2% from 3-point range. The 'Cats outrebounded the Rebels 42-33.

Kentucky moved to 18-9 (8-5) with the victory, and with Florida's loss to Tennessee, moved into a tie for 2nd place in the SEC East and the all-important first round SEC tournament bye. The road for the Wildcats gets much tougher as the regular season winds to an end, however, as UK next faces SEC West leader, # 24 LSU in Baton Rouge, followed by a visit to SEC East leader # 10 Tennessee in Knoxville. The 'Cats finish with # 12 Florida in Rupp Arena on Senior Day. Ole Miss fell to 14-12 (4-9) with the loss.

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