[SLIDESHOW]Big Easy win: Cats coast to win in New Orleans 100-71


Junior forward Patrick Patterson, freshman forward Daniel Orton and freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins all made dunks during the UK men’s basketball against East Tennessee State for the first round of the NCAA tournament at New Orleans Arena on Thursday, March 18, 2010. The Cats won 100-71 over the Bucs. Photos by Adam Wolffbrandt and Britney McIntosh

NEW ORLEANS – Playing in the city nicknamed the Big Easy was only fitting for UK (33-2) on Thursday against East Tennessee State.

The Cats shot 59.4 percent in the first half and 51.7 percent for the game, coasting to a 100-71 victory over the 16-seeded Buccaneers.

“(East Tennessee State) hit a buzzsaw,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “… Hopefully we’re this good. I’m not sure if we are, but we’ll see if we can keep it going.”

Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe led the young Cats, whose starting eight had never played in an NCAA Tournament game. Bledsoe was 8-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc, the most made 3-pointers ever in an NCAA Tournament game by a UK player. The previous record holder, Tony Delk, sat by Bledsoe on the bench and has already started hearing it.

“I just said, Tony Who?” Bledsoe said. “He gets mad. He said I should have stopped after seven.”

For a team not known for their 3-point shooting ability, the Cats bombarded ETSU with seven in the opening half and 15 for the game, one short of tying the UK team record for most 3-pointers in an NCAA Tournament game. The Cats said they’re still not a 3-point-shooting team, but if they shoot the way they did Thursday night, they’re going to be a tough team to beat.

“I don’t think anybody can beat us (when we shoot that way),” Bledsoe said. “They’re going to come out and play hard, but we’re just going to have to come out and play harder. But once we start making threes it’s going to be a long day.”

For ETSU, it was a very long day.

After taking a brief 10-9 lead 4:09 into the game, the “buzzsaw” was lowered and UK was sharp from everywhere. The Cats exploded on a 28-4 run, bookended by Bledsoe 3-pointers, and outscored ETSU 45-17 for the remainder of the half.

The outside shot was open for the vast majority of the game for UK because of the double and triple teams assessed to freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins who didn’t make his first field goal, a two-handed dunk, until 8:06 showed on clock in the second half.

Junior forward Patrick Patterson, however, hit 9-of-10 baskets for 22 points and five rebounds. His lone miss, ironically enough, was a 3-point attempt.

“I didn’t know it was like that,” said Patterson of his shooting percentage. “I knew that Eric was shooting well tonight, but as far as my shooting, I wasn’t aware.”

Bledsoe and Patterson combined shooting 18-for-21 from the field and 9-for-11 from beyond the 3-point arc, and their 51 points were over half of UK’s total output.

With one game under their belt, the Cats talked about the relief of having it out of the way and the pressures of the opening match. Bledsoe said Delk told them before the game that the first game of the tournament is the toughest because of nerves.

“Once you get past the first game you get your nervousness out of the way,” said Bledsoe about what Delk told him prior to Thursday night’s game.

The Cats stretched the lead to as many 40 with 14:40 remaining in the game, and had 27 assists on 31 made baskets. The Buccaneers struggled from beyond the arc, going 4-of-17 for the game.

The Cats were all smiles after the game, but said they were going to have to bring it again in their next game, whether that be Wake Forest or Texas.

“Finally to be on a team – a true Kentucky team – that can represent Kentucky the right way, it just feels great to be a part of this and hopefully we can make a big run,” Patterson said.