Dec. 29, 2008
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Kentucky looks ready for its annual showdown with archrival Louisville.
Jodie Meeks scored 23 points and Patrick Patterson added 15 points and nine rebounds as the Wildcats rolled by Central Michigan 84-52 on Monday for their sixth straight win to setup a showdown with the No. 18 Cardinals on Sunday.
Freshman walk-on Landon Slone starred off the bench for the second straight game, scoring eight points to bring the Wildcats (11-3) to life after a dismal start.
Slone’s energy sparked a 36-8 surge to end the first half as Kentucky held the Chippewas (3-9) without a field goal for more than 10 minutes.
Jacolby Hardiman led Central Michigan with 12 points and Marcus Van added 11 points and eight boards but the Chippewas shot just 31 percent from the field (18 of 58) and had no answers when the Wildcats turned up the pressure.
The victory gives the Wildcats plenty of momentum heading into the annual Dream Game against the Cardinals. Kentucky has won 11 of 12, most of them looking an awful lot like their dismantling of the Chippewas.
Central Michigan took control early and led by as much as nine as Kentucky’s unconventional starting lineup – a unit that included guards Meeks, Michael Porter and DeAndre Liggins – struggled to get any rhythm.
Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie quickly went to the bench and summoned Slone, a schoolboy star from Paintsville, Ky. – about two hours east of Rupp Arena – who is rapidly becoming a folk hero.
Slone had played 33 minutes all season before putting together 25 productive minutes in a narrow win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday. He backed it up against the Chippewas by doing all the little things Gillispie loves: taking care of the ball, playing some defense and throwing his 6-foot-3, 189-pound frame into the lane if necessary.
Slone showed off something else against the Chippewas: a deft shooting touch. He hit a 3-pointer and followed it up with a little pull-up jumper in the lane that got the Wildcats going. A couple of possessions later, he hit the deck diving for a loose ball and got elbowed while pulling in one of his five rebounds – two less than he had in his previous eight games combined.
As Kentucky and Slone surged, the Chippewas slumped after a hot start. A Robbie Harman jumper gave Central Michigan a 17-15 lead with 11:03 remaining in the first half.
It would be the last time the Chippewas actually put the ball through the cylinder for more than 16 minutes. Central Michigan managed just six free throws and a basket on a generous goaltending call for the rest of the half as Kentucky raced to a 42-23 halftime lead.
Kentucky kept building the lead after the break. Patterson hit a put-back, Porter and Meeks each hit 3-pointers and Josh Harrelson knocked in a lay-up to push the gap to 53-24.
By the time Hardiman’s layup ended the drought with 14:52 left in the game, the Chippewas trailed 56-28.
Central Michigan wouldn’t get much closer, as Kentucky continued to amp up the pressure and ride Meeks’ hot hand. He ended his night with a deep 3-pointer in front of Central Michigan’s Jordan Bitzer, who swung his hand in disgust as the arena roared.
The win sets up a much-anticipated showdown with No. 18 Louisville. The Cardinals rolled to an 89-75 win in Rupp Arena last year, part of a nightmarish start for the Wildcats during Gillispie’s tumultuous first year.
Those days, apparently, are over. Monday’s win was Kentucky’s seventh by at least 20-points and the Wildcats hardly resemble the erratic bunch they were a season ago.
Kentucky played without forward Ramon Harris, who watched in street clothes. Harris is still dealing with a neck and back injury suffered against Lamar on Dec. 3.