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Wall warms up for Louisville by breaking assist record

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wall hartford.jpgTwenty-four hours earlier, John Calipari admitted his team was having its best practices of the year. Tuesday night the Cats might have mistaken Rupp Arena for their practice floor at the Joe Craft Center.

UK steamrolled Hartford 104-61 on Tuesday in front of 24,340 fans in Rupp Arena, extending one of the best winning streaks in school history to 14 games.

Freshman center DeMarcus Cousins dominated the paint with 19 points, sophomore Darnell Dodson rained treys (six 3-pointers in all) and Darius Miller glided his way to a season-high 16 points.

That John Wall fella? He only broke Travis Ford's hallowed record of 15 assists in a single game.

Wall must have forgotten the season for giving was over. Dimes were falling from his fingertips. Alley-oops to Cousins, floaters to Daniel Orton in the lane, kick-outs to Dodson for three, you name it.

The freshman sensation finished with 16 assists on the night (and only committed one turnover!), the final one coming when he dropped off a pass to Perry Stevenson at the free-throw line for a 15-foot jumper. Ford's nearly 17-year-old record was gone. Ironically, it was the first game of the season Wall failed to reach double figures in the scoring column.

"It's a lot of stuff, a lot of history going on at this school. To get in there with the assist record in one game means a lot," Wall said. "You thank the whole team for making shots and thank the coaching staff for letting me get back in the game."

Wall's pursuit of charitable perfection was apparent fairly early on. The 6-foot-4 guard continually teased the undersized Hawks, driving the lane and drawing two defenders before tossing it near the rim, usually for an uncontested dunk.

"It's not a record I could have got by myself," Wall said. "It it wasn't for me passing the ball ahead, if it wasn't for them guys making shots when I was getting it to them, I wouldn't have broken the record."

But let's be honest - besides Wall's record, this was expected. Against Hartford, now a 2-10 team, it was a tune-up for the date with archrival Louisville, which now lies just four days away.

Hartford, for better or worse, entered the game on an 18-day layoff, which came on the heels of a seven-game losing streak. The Cats, with Louisville fresh in their sights, weren't exactly the perfect cure and did what they were supposed to.

"I think our team is getting better and I think that our individual players are getting better," head coach John Calipari said. "The only way your team gets better is individual players get better."

Everyone had a hand in the victory. Eleven of UK's 12 players scored, including senior guard Mark Krebs. The fan favorite got UK to 100 points with a 3-pointer from straightaway. His trey, with a still packed Rupp Arena fan base on its feet, came with his ailing mother, who is battling a life-threatening bout with breast cancer, at courtside, tears running down her face.

Although it was against a lowly Hartford team, it was that kind of night. And exactly the one UK needed before its test with Louisville.

Maybe the most encouraging theme of the night was that everyone - not just Wall - shared the basketball. Of UK's 41 field goals, 30 of them were assisted. After the first half, the Cats had 16 assists on 19 field goals.

"You saw some of the (dribble-drive) today," said Calipari, whose teams accounted for 10 dunks, more than half on alley-oops. "The reason we shoot such a high percentage is because we had so many easy plays. My thing is to get on the guys to just make easy plays. Don't try to make hero plays. Don't try to throw look-away passes if you don't have to. Throw it to the guy where he can handle it and make a basket."

Really, there were few things not to like if you side with UK.

Rebounding margin? Check (41-24). Field-goal percentage? Check (60.3 percent). Ball control? Check (only seven turnovers). Long-range shooting? Check (14 treys). And of course the assists.

About the only thing rubbing Calipari the wrong way after the game was the Cats' lack of defensive intensity, and even that - Hartford shot 37.9 percent from the field - wasn't terrible.

So after doing just about everything right the Cats could do right prior to the Dream Game, can we finally move on to Louisville?

"It's my first experience with Louisville-UK, but I've coached against Louisville when I was at Memphis," Calipari said. "One, it's a great game for our state, for the Commonwealth. It's a great game for college basketball. As you know, everybody is talking about it. It's also a great game for our program to play. It's a rivalry game. It's important for both programs."

Does this team largely made up of 18- and 19-year-old kids realize that yet? A couple of them said after the game that they haven't fully appreciated the rivalry yet, but let's remember they just finished a game.

No worries, Miller said. With the Hartford tune-up now fully in the rearview mirror, they'll understand over the next few days.

"I'm sure (the young players) said that we're just trying to take it one game at a time and we're just trying to focus on the next game," said Miller, who vividly remembers the sting of Edgar Sosa's late game-winning 3-pointer from last season. "They understand how big the rivalry is. When you have a million fans that we better beat Louisville, they understand how big it is."

 Finally, it's Louisville time.

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Let's pray we can sweep Louisville. This years team is outstanding. Hopefully they all stay for 4 years and not get the big head and go to the pro's with in the first year.

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  • James: Let's pray we can sweep Louisville. This years team is outstanding. Hopefully they all stay for 4 years and not read more