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Rewind: Cats ground Eagles

Jan. 2, 2013
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.

Kentucky got well-rounded performances from just about everyone in its 90-38 victory over Eastern Michigan (Darrell Bird/TCP)

It won't qualify as a quality non-conference victory in terms of an NCAA Tournament resumé builder but Kentucky ended the pre-Southeastern Conference portion of its schedule with an efficient bludgeoning.

The Cats handcuffed an offensively challenged Eastern Michigan squad for a 90-38 victory, holding the Eagles to just 24.2 percent shooting. The 52-point margin equaled the Cats' largest victory of the season, which game against Lafayette.

The Cats methodically stretched its lead in a first half that saw them hold Eastern Michigan to just 21.4 percent shooting with 12 turnovers. The Eagles turned the basketball over three times and were forced to call three timeouts in the half because of UK's fullcourt defensive pressure.

Ryan Harrow had 15 points and eight assists for the Cats, while Alex Poythress added 16 points and Nerlens Noel 13 rebounds. Willie Cauley-Stein produced a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

on coaching hard throughout a 52-point victory
“It's about discipline. It's about playing together. It's not about the score of a ball game. This is a process with this team. We're starting four freshmen. I'm worried about us getting better. I'm focused on what I have to do to get individual players better.”

“We have struggled scoring the basketball all season but looking at how they protect the paint, hedge ball screens, and do a great job with their activity, pressuring the ball, I knew it would be tough (to score). – Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy, on Kentucky's defense

“We're a lot better. We've made major improvements on the defensive end. That's what we do most of the time in practice, being competitive on the defensive end. Now we're having carry over to the games and we've made major strides and improvement.” – Kentucky guard Julius Mays, on the Cats' defensive improvement

John Calipari told anyone who would listen – most notably the kid himself – before the season that Willie Cauley-Stein had no idea just how talented he was and how good he could ultimately become. It looks as if the Kentucky coach was on to something, as Cauley-Stein notched his second double-double of the season with an 11-point, 11-rebound effort in just 22 minutes of work. More than the numbers though was the 7-footers ability to harass the inbound pass as the point man on Kentucky's fullcourt pressure, which was devastating against the Eagles.

Willie Cauley-Stein had his second double-double of the season in the win

In an effort to get the best out of Alex Poythress before it gets too late in the season Calipari spent additional one-on-one time with his star freshman forward leading up to the Eastern Michigan game. The results were mixed but there was definite improvement in consistent energy after a rough start with Poythress going for a team-high 16 points and snatching five rebounds.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made his first appearance in Rupp Arena this season, sitting on the Kentucky bench during pregame warmups before watching the Cats live for the first time since winning the national championship last season. The fan favorite had the same smile Kentucky's faithful got used to last season despite playing for a struggling Charlotte Bobcats team in his rookie season. The forward averaged 10.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists through his first 30 games with 40 blocked shots and 25 steals.

3 – Julius Mays finally broke out of a horrific shooting slump, connecting on a trio of three-pointers while scoring 13 points. The senior guard had made just 2-of-19 three-pointers in his last four games (10.5 percent) and 7-of-31 in the past six (22.6 percent) to drop all the way to 29.3 percent for the season before making 3-of-7 against Eastern Michigan. The effort helped ease Mays' mind: “It felt good to see a couple go in,” Mays said. “I mean, I knew it was a matter of time but the only way a shooter can come out of a slump is to keep shooting. To see a couple go in was a good feeling.”

This isn't the type of opponent that will cause Kentucky fans to proclaim the Cats are back in the Final Four mix but they did play as relatively complete game in starting fast and never really letting off the gas. There are still areas that need tightening up but you are seeing smoother offensive possessions, more intensity on both ends of the floor and a much more confident Ryan Harrow orchestrating the whole thing. Those are all positive developments as the Cats head into SEC play.

Kentucky (9-4) will take this weekend off before beginning SEC play with a road trip to Vanderbilt on Thursday, Jan. 10 in Memorial Gym.

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