Quick Start Ignites Cats
Dec. 13, 2008
Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Loft up a shot in the lane and he'll block. Throw it near the rim and he'll dunk it.
That's all Kentucky needed from junior Perry Stevenson Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena as the Wildcats cruised past Indiana 72-54. Stevenson's 10-point, six-block effort helped the Wildcats secure a victory over their border-state rival.
“I thought he played great, but I wasn't surprised that he did,” UK Coach Billy Gillispie said. “Perry is a good player, and he's a very smart player. I think that he's on track to really start playing as well as he possibly can. When he does that, it makes us pretty good.”
Playing for the first time in nearly a week, the Wildcats (7-3) blitzed the Hoosiers (5-5) from the outset. Kentucky set the tone just two seconds into the game with a quick tip, pass and lay-in by junior Kevin Galloway. That propelled the Wildcats to the game's first 14 points, and they never looked back after that.
Kentucky started the game on fire, hitting 12 of its first 14 shots, but the biggest difference was the Wildcats' pressure defense. The Wildcats forced the Hoosiers into seven turnovers in the first seven minutes, and they didn't allow an Indiana field goal until Tom Pritchard banked a layup off the the glass at the 13:35 mark. At that point, the Wildcats were already off and running.
“You don't win championships unless you play great defense, in my opinion,” Gillispie said. “I think our team this year when we are able to set up in the half court and play half-court man-to-man defense, I think we've guarded as well as anyone can possibly guard so far. When we get set in the half court, I'm confident that we can be one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and I've been around some good ones before.”
Kentucky looked every bit the part of a championship-caliber defense Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats forced the Hoosiers into 20 turnovers, including 15 in the first half, and limited the Hoosiers to 37 percent shooting.
“Obviously, everything that could have gone wrong for us in the first eight minutes did,” said Indiana Coach Tom Crean, who was playing in his first UK-IU rivalry game. “Their pressure, intensity and enthusiasm level was as high as I have seen it this year. We contributed to it with turnovers and some quick shots. We got away from doing what we wanted to do, in keeping the game at a strong pace and that is a tribute to Kentucky and the way they played early on. We just couldn't deal with their length and athleticism.”
A lot of that length and athleticism came from the Stevenson, whose six blocked shots set a season high. The 6-foot-9 junior gave the Indiana offense headaches all day in one of his best performances of the year.
Kentucky cooled a bit offensively in the second half, which Gillispie attributed to the Wildcats' turnover problems, but Kentucky's defense never let the Hoosiers creep any closer than 15 points in the Wildcats' sixth double-digit win of the year.
Harrellson paced Kentucky offensively with a career- and game-high 15 points, and junior Jodie Meeks and sophomore Patrick Patterson chipped in with 13 and 12 points, respectively. For the sixth consecutive game, UK had at least three players tally double-digit in points, the first time the Wildcats have conquered that feat since March 8, 2007.
The only bad news Kentucky received was a slight ankle tweak junior Michael Porter suffered during the game, but Gillispie said the injury is nothing major and doesn't expect him to miss any time.
The win marked the Cats' 12th win over Indiana over the last 15 years. More importantly, it was Kentucky's seventh win in the last eight games.
“If we can continue to get better offensively taking care of the basketball, I think we're about ready to steamroll,” Gillispie said.