LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Suddenly, 2008 doesn’t look so bleak for Kentucky.
Ramel Bradley scored 22 points and Jodie Meeks added 21 as the Wildcats raced by Florida International 92-49 on Monday at Rupp Arena.
Injuries and inconsistent play have haunted the Wildcats (6-6) through most of the early season, including embarrassing home losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego.
But playing with a full complement of players for the first time all year, Kentucky had little problem dispatching the Golden Panthers.
Russell Hicks led Florida International (3-9) with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but the Golden Panthers couldn’t keep up, losing their sixth straight.
The Wildcats began the game with their 11th different starting lineup, but it didn’t take long for coach Billy Gillispie to bring some familiar faces off the bench.
When Joe Crawford and Derrick Jasper entered the game less than two minutes in, it marked just the second time this season the Wildcats put their best five players on the floor at the same time.
Jasper missed the first 10 games of the year while healing from offseason microfracture surgery on his left knee while Meeks sat out seven games with a stress fracture in his pelvis and a strained hip flexor.
Jasper was rusty in the loss to San Diego, but appeared just fine while playing 28 minutes. He finished with four points, five assists and a team-high 10 rebounds.
More importantly, once he took the floor it didn’t take long for the Wildcats to find some much-needed cohesion.
Kentucky reeled off 10 quick points, spreading the floor with the four guards while Patrick Patterson worked the middle. Florida International managed to briefly make it competitive, but the Wildcats broke it open with a 15-3 run fueled by some hot 3-point shooting. The Wildcats made five of their first seven 3-pointers, and the energy translated at the other end of the floor.
A steal by Meeks led to a layup by Mark Coury. Seconds later Coury stepped in front of a pass, leading to a 3-pointer by Crawford. A 3-pointer by Meeks pushed the lead to 21, and Kentucky ended the half with a flourish as Bradley hit an acrobatic layup in the lane and added another one at the first half buzzer after the Panthers threw it away while trying to deal with the Wildcat press.
The crowd roared its approval as the Wildcats raced to the locker room, a marked difference from the quiet groaning that signaled the end of Saturday’s loss to San Diego.
The second half brought more of the same, as the Wildcats withstood a brief flurry by the Golden Panthers, putting them away with a 14-2 run that gave them a 59-32 lead and allowed the Wildcats to start thinking ahead to Saturday’s game against rival Louisville.
Kentucky held the Golden Panthers to 31 percent shooting and played with the kind of spirited effort that it has lacked at times this year.
The Wildcats forced 17 turnovers, leading to 27 points and had little trouble pushing the pace.