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Cats show maturity, grit in victory over St. John's

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Freshman forward Anthony Davis had eight blocks against St. John's on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Freshman forward Anthony Davis had eight blocks against St. John's on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
During the 2009-10 season, Kentucky basketball was at the top of the country. The Wildcats boasted one of the most electrifying freshman, had one of the most high-profile head coaches, and had just received a call from the commander in chief.

Those Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the country for one day before losing to South Carolina on the road.

The knock on those Cats was youth. While they had veteran players such as Patrick Patterson, Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson, none of those players had much, if any, postseason experience.

Fast forward two years, the Cats again find themselves on top of the college basketball mountain. The difference this time is how Kentucky played in its first game while holding the No. 1 title.

"We came out with a lot of intensity and we played better than we played two years ago," senior guard Darius Miller said. "Two years ago I think we kind of came out thinking we were No. 1, we played like nobody could beat us, and you saw the outcome of that. I think we played pretty hard today - pretty good - but we still have a lot of stuff to work on."

Against South Carolina, the Cats played on the road, yes, but the difference was obvious Thursday night in Rupp Arena - the Cats never bought into the No. 1 title.

"I think we just respect the other teams we play so much that we don't overlook them or say that we're the No. 1 team and playing a lower team," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "We respect the teams we play."

When shots didn't fall in the first 20 minutes, Kentucky relied on its defense, forcing five shot clock violations in the first half and holding its third opponent to 20 points or less in the opening half this season.

Freshman Anthony Davis was spectacular, narrowly missing out on a triple-double with 15 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks. It wasn't a one-man show though. As a team, Kentucky set a school record with 18 blocks and bought into the tight-night, in your face, gritty defense that UK head coach John Calipari demands of his teams.

The end result was an impressive victory for a Wildcats team that had every excuse in the book to play sloppy with a date against No. 5 North Carolina up next on the schedule.

On Wednesday, during the team's media opportunity, the young Cats said all the right things; 'We're taking it one game at a time,' 'We're not worried about North Carolina,' 'We're just focused on St. John's.' The question was would Kentucky practice what it preached? That question was answered emphatically in an 81-59 win by Kentucky with the outcome of the game never really in doubt after the opening 10 minutes.

Lost in Kentucky's 22-point victory is the performance of sophomore forward Terrence Jones who had 26 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and four steals. If Kentucky has any hopes of retaining its No. 1 ranking for another week, it will need more great performances from Davis, Jones and the rest of the Cats.

Up next on the schedule is a date with the Tar Heels in one of the more highly anticipated regular season college basketball games in recent memory.

"I have no idea how we are going to play them yet," Calipari said. "You know, they pretty much play how they play. We pretty much play like we play. I doubt if either one of us is going to try to hold the ball. I mean, it should be an up and down game, I imagine. You let them get in too much of an up and down game, you'll get killed."

"They have a lot of guys that can knock down jumpers, especially when they get going," Miller said. "First of all, we have to come in and play defense on them, especially getting back in transition because we know that's one of their stronger points."

A win on Saturday and the Cats will likely remain No. 1 in the land for another week, and that would be yet another difference from two years ago.

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