Kentucky Opens Calipari Era with 75-59 Victory Over Morehead State
Nov. 13, 2009
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky freshman Eric Bledsoe scored 24 points while starting in place of John Wall, and the fourth-ranked Wildcats opened the John Calipari era with a 75-59 win over Morehead State on Friday night.
Kenneth Faried led Morehead State (0-1) with 17 points, but the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions couldn't keep up even with Wall sitting on the bench.
Not that Kentucky needed Wall in the second half, as Bledsoe dazzled a raucous Rupp Arena crowd with a series of breathtaking shots.
Still, there were plenty of difficulties for the Wildcats, who never trailed after the game's opening minutes but struggled to put away the Eagles. Calipari stressed there would be growing pains as Kentucky got used to the dribble-drive offense that he used with great success at Memphis - and he wasn't kidding.
The Wildcats turned it over 24 times, made just four of 19 3-pointers and seemed to be indecisive while trying to decide whether to take an open shot or get to the basket.
Kentucky led 33-25 at the half and as the Wildcats slogged their way through the opening minutes of the second, the Eagles appeared to flirt - albeit briefly - with pulling a big upset at Rupp.
Calipari was brought in to return the blue bloods to greatness, and although he said before the game he wouldn't be surprised if the Wildcats opened 0-5, there was little doubt how much his first night as the coach of college basketball's all-time winningest program meant.
He stomped, he pleaded, he cajoled. He called a 30-second timeout after Faried dunked to pull the Eagles within 52-39 with about 9 minutes left, and slammed his fist a couple of times while urging his team to go play ball.
Bledsoe, almost an afterthought given all the hype surrounding the supremely talented Wall, wasted little time proving there's more than one freshman guard on the team who can be a blur when the ball is in his hands.
During one sequence Bledsoe fed a streaking Patterson for a lay-up, then followed a few moments later with a breathtaking coast-to-coast dash for another easy basket.
His best moment came later, when he knifed into the lane, absorbed contact and flipped the ball over his head with his back to the basket. The ball bounced off the rim several times before falling through the net.
The sellout crowd roared its approval, and Bledsoe kept them on their feet with another assist to Patterson on Kentucky's next possession. He later hit a fadeaway from 17 feet while falling on his backside, one of his few missteps.
Bledsoe walked off the floor to a standing ovation with 1:41 left and received some love from Wall. The two are expected to play alongside each other when the Wildcats play the RedHawks on Monday, part of a lineup that did little to dampen the high expectations set out by one of the country's most demanding fan bases.