UK pulls away from Portland for 87-63 win

By Les Johns

The Cats’ talent and athleticism bested the disciplined hot-shooting Portland Pilots Saturday night at Rupp Arena, winning 87-63.

The Pilots, coming off three straight losses, seemed determined to not allow the game to get out of reach early, slowing down the tempo and milking the shot clock repeatedly.

They also capitalized on hot shooting behind the arc, going 6-12 in the first half.

The Cats started slow, allowing Portland to take a 7-6  lead at the 16-minute mark of the first half.

“We started the game sloppy,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “Their motor wasn’t running. … We can’t start game like that. You have to come out of the gate with some aggression.”

After trading a couple of misses, UK freshman point guard Marquis Teague executed a spin move at the right hash of the free throw stripe, allowing him to elude his defender as well as the secondary defender lurking beneath the basket.

Left alone and going to the basket, Teague short-armed the layup.

The Pilots rebounded and yanked up a quick shot of their own, which was swatted by senior Darius Miller and rebounded by sophomore Terrence Jones, who threw the outlet down to Teague, who had not made it to the defensive end of the court following his miss.

Wide-open again, Teague did not miss this time — he emphatically dunked it — sparking a decisive 25-8 UK run. The Cats never trailed again.

The Cats went in to halftime with a 38-26 lead, despite Portland’s shooting and a 21-16 advantage on the boards.

Aided by two more baskets behind the arc, Portland closed the lead to six (43-37) at the first media timeout of the second half, with 15:51 to go in the game.

Then Matt Roark, who led the football Cats to victory against Tennessee Saturday afternoon, ignited the Rupp Arena crowd and possibly the UK defense when he made an appearance as the “Y” in the “Kentucky” cheer.

After the break, Jones promptly made a couple of free throws and the Cats ramped up the full-court pressure. The pressure led to back-to-back Portland turnovers and back-to-back slam dunks for the Cats, including a highlight-reel two-handed jam from freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that also drew a Pilot foul.

“It (the dunk) was crazy,” said Kidd-Gilchrist. “It might be number one for my career.”

Kidd-Gilchrist’s ensuing free-throw connection finished off a 7-0 UK spurt that lasted 27 seconds.

“A press can change the complexion of the game,” said Calipari. “We pressed because this team was going to hold the ball.”

“We’re real long and it makes it tough for teams to get it over (us),” Jones said. “Being able to press and give us five points more in three seconds is good.”

That was the start of a 15-2 run for the Cats, whose biggest lead of the game was 27, at 87-60.

The Cats forced the Pilots to turn the ball over 17 times, converting the turnovers to 22 points. The Cats handled the ball well themselves, only turning it over four times for the game and dishing out a total of 20 assists.

Portland shot the ball well against the Cats, hitting 11 of 23 three-point shots for the game.

“We shot it well and thought if we executed our offense that we would get those shots,” Portland head coach Eric Reveno said.

“The biggest thing we have to work on is guarding three-point shooters,” Calipari said. “Florida will take 35 threes against us — that  means they will win by 108 points right now, if we don’t learn to guard a three-point shooter.”

“We didn’t stay connected to shooters,” senior Miller said. “They got a lot of open looks coming off screen.”

Portland also outrebounded the Cats 39-38.

“They were physical again,” Calipari said. “They pushed us in the back. They wedged us.”

“If we don’t physically battle before the ball hits the rim, it’ll be hard for us to win either of the next two games,” Calipari said, referencing high-profile matchups against St. John’s and North Carolina Thursday and Saturday.

The Cats were led in scoring by Jones. who was a perfect 2-2 behind the arc, and  Miller, who was 4-5 from three point range. Both finished with 19 points.

Five total Cats were in double figures.

Teague added 14 points and eight assists.

Freshman forward Anthony Davis contributed 13 points and 12 rebounds, which gave him his second career double-double. He also had four blocked-shots.

Kidd-Gilchrist had 11 points and seven rebounds.

Sophomore guard Doron Lamb also scored nine points, shooting 1-6 from the field and 7-7 from the line.

“The numbers looked pretty good,” Calipari said, “but we have to be better than we’re playing right now.”

The Cats (6-0) next face the St. John’s Red Storm Thursday in Rupp Arena at 7:30 p.m (television coverage on ESPN2). The Red Storm (4-3) have lost three out of their last four contests, including Saturday’s loss at home to Northwestern 64-78.