LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Bobby Perry wanted to make up for missing a critical shot earlier this week.
Perry, a junior making his second career start, went 8-of-12 from the field and scored a career-high 22 points Friday to lead seventh-ranked Kentucky past Liberty 81-51.
Rajon Rondo added 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the Wildcats (4-1), who remained undefeated in six games all-time against Big South Conference opponents.
Perry’s previous career high, 12 points, came in the Wildcats’ 67-63 loss to No. 18 Iowa on Monday in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic. However, he missed a layup during the final minute against the Hawkeyes that would have given Kentucky a one-point lead.
Perry decided not to dwell on the miss but to try to figure out a way it might help him improve. He said he decided to not be so tentative and to shoot with more confidence.
“I’ve always been taught that if you make a mistake, you have to learn how to correct it,” Perry said. “Life is all about learning, all about experiences. From now on, there are no second thoughts.”
Kentucky will play another Big South team—coach Tubby Smith’s alma mater, High Point—Tuesday before a Dec. 3 showdown with defending national champion North Carolina at Rupp Arena.
Perry made his first five shots against the Flames (1-2), including three 3-pointers, and scored 14 points in the first 11 1/2 minutes. Smith said Perry is reaping the benefits of practicing the past two years against former Kentucky star Chuck Hayes.
“When you bang against one of the top players in the country you’re going to get better,” Smith said.
Liberty returned only one starter from last season’s 13-15 team—guard Larry Blair—and while Blair scored 26 points, he also took 25 of the team’s 59 shots. The Flames, whose other loss this season came by 35 points to Virginia, only challenged Kentucky in spurts.
The Flames turned the ball over on their first four possessions and didn’t attempt a shot until almost 3 minutes into the game. Blair kept Liberty reasonably close with 14 first-half points, but thanks to 7-of-14 3-point shooting, Kentucky led 36-28 at halftime.
Liberty trailed only 38-30 during the first minute of the second half before the Wildcats went on a 15-2 run to take a 53-32 lead with 14:39 left. Liberty came no closer than 18 points after that, and the Wildcats stretched their lead to as many as 34 points.
Kentucky committed only 11 turnovers and limited the Flames to 32.2 percent field-goal shooting. Besides Blair, only one other Liberty player scored in double figures—Damien Hubbard, who had 13.
“We need to learn our roles on the court and execute our game plan better,” Liberty coach Randy Dunton said. “I thought in the first half there waqs progress. I was disappointed in our second-half performance because we aren’t here for moral victories.”
Freshman guard Adam Williams, making his debut, scored on his first field-goal attempt—rebounding a missed 3-point attempt by Preston LeMaster and dunking with 24 seconds left to bring a roar from the crowd of 22,717.
Sophomore swingman Joe Crawford, who started Kentucky’s first three games, did not suit up against the Flames because of multiple injuries, including a knee strain and a hip pointer.