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After nearly a month of play away from home, Kentucky returns to the friendly confines of Rupp Arena Tuesday to host Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels, who will travel the 30 miles from nearby Richmond, are coached by former UK standout Travis Ford, who still holds several UK records nearly 10 years after graduating.
The Cats are off to their best start since the 1992-93 season, when they opened with an 11-0 record. UK has won its last 26 regular-season games and 32 of its last 33 games overall. Kentucky is shooting 47.8% from the field this year, despite a 27.1% effort in the win over UCLA. The Wildcats have topped 50.0% shooting four times, including the last two games.
The Eastern Kentucky game opens a five-game ?homestand.? UK takes on Louisville Saturday in Rupp Arena, before playing host to Austin Peay in Louisville?s Freedom Hall on New Year?s Eve. The Cats open January with Rupp Arena games against North Carolina (Jan. 3) and Vanderbilt (Jan. 10).
The Wildcats have won all seven meetings in the Eastern Kentucky series, which dates back to Dec. 15, 1928, a 35-10 Wildcat victory. Three of UK?s wins over the Colonels came while EKU head coach Travis Ford was a member of the Kentucky team (1992-94).
The squads last met on Dec. 5, 2000, a 94-79 victory in Rupp Arena. It was Travis Ford?s first game in Rupp Arena as a head coach.
The Eastern Kentucky Colonels
EKU has started the year with a 3-4 record with all four losses coming on the road. After opening the season with a road loss to Saint Louis, the Colonels rebounded to earn a convincing win over Ohio Wesleyan, 106-52, in Richmond. Eastern has won two of its last three games, including a 90-56 victory over Savannah State at home on Saturday. The victory avenged a loss to SSU just 12 days earlier in Savannah.
Matt Witt leads the Colonels in scoring, averaging 13.7 ppg and 5.1 apg. Witt was named the Ohio Valley Conference Rookie of the Year in 2003. Close behind is Michael Haney, who averages 12.7 ppg and leads the team with 7.6 rpg. Senior Jon Bentley is the final of EKU?s three returning starters and is shooting 66.7% from the field early in the season.
Travis Ford, now in his fourth season as head coach of the Colonels, is remembered by Wildcat fans as ?The Little General.? After transferring from Missouri following his freshman season, Ford served as the Cats? point guard from 1992-94 and guided Kentucky to the 1993 Final Four.
The Madisonville, Ky., native holds school records for most three-pointers made in a season (101) and highest single-season three-point percentage (52.9% – 1993). He still ranks fifth in career three-pointers at UK with 190, despite only wearing the Blue and White for three seasons.
He also ranks eighth in career assists (428) and second in single-season assists (193 – 1994).
UK junior Josh Carrier and EKU junior Terrez DeWalt played high school basketball together at Bowling Green (Ky.) High School.
UK vs. OVC
Eastern Kentucky is UK?s second Ohio Valley Conference opponent this season. Kentucky defeated Tennessee Tech in Lexington on Nov. 28. The Cats will take on Austin Peay next week in Louisville.
UK holds a perfect 24-0 record all-time against current OVC teams, one of 10 conferences that the Cats hold a perfect record against.
Hawkins Giveth, Hawkins Taketh Away
Senior point guard Cliff Hawkins is getting the job done on both ends of the court. He currently leads the SEC in both assists (6.8 apg) and steals (3.0 spg).
A candidate for the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year, Hawkins currently ranks 10th in career assists at UK with 335. He has 138 steals in his fourth year at UK and needs just 15 to crack UK?s top 10.
Undersized Cats Winning Board Battles
Despite not having a starter over 6-8, Kentucky has won the rebounding matchup in all six games this season. The Cats are outrebounding the opposition by 8.8 boards per game.
Due in part to that rebounding advantage, UK is outscoring it opponents in the paint an average of 41.0-24.3.
Cats Playing From Ahead
Of the 240 minutes Kentucky has played thus far, the Cats have trailed for a total of only 67 seconds. UK was behind for 12 seconds in the season opener against Winthrop and for another 55 seconds versus Marshall.
The Wildcats have not trailed in any of their last three games against UCLA, Michigan State and Indiana.
Smith Closing In On 300 Wins
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith needs just six more wins to reach 300 for his career. His current record is 294-109.
After defeating the ranked Michigan State Spartans on Dec. 13, the Wildcats moved into the top ranking in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches polls. Although second in the latest AP poll, the Cats do have the highest number of first-place votes (26), five more than No. 1 UConn.
Kentucky was No. 1 in both the AP and coaches? poll following the regular season last year (Mar. 17, 2003).
UK, which finished last season with a 32-4 record, has been No.1 in the final AP ranking a nation-leading 11 times.