LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Rajon Rondo promised before the season that he had improved his all-around game. The Kentucky point guard is backing up that bravado.
Rondo compiled his third double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists Tuesday night to lead the 10th-ranked Wildcats past High Point 75-55.
“He is a great point guard,” High Point’s Arizona Reid said. “He can rebound, shoot and pass the ball. He does just about everything. In my mind, he’s the best point guard in the nation.”
Rondo has led the team in rebounding every game this season. Ramel Bradley scored 14 points and Patrick Sparks added 13 for Kentucky (5-1), which won its third straight game while prepping for a showdown Saturday at Rupp Arena against defending national champion North Carolina.
Reid had 29 points and 16 rebounds—each a career high—for High Point, a member of the Big South Conference and the alma mater of Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. It was the third time the Panthers (3-2) played Kentucky since Smith became the Wildcats’ coach in 1997.
Kentucky’s average margin of victory in its previous two meetings with the Panthers was 36.5 points, so this one didn’t figure to be very competitive. High Point went 1-of-19 from 3-point range but kept things interesting for a half before wearing down and taking bad shots against the Wildcats’ zone defense.
High Point outrebounded Kentucky 20-19 in the first half and trailed only 34-30 at halftime.
The Panthers took the lead, 24-21, at the 7:27 mark on a three-point play by Akeem Scott, who scored 12 points. But a 13-2 Kentucky run—keyed by Rondo’s three baskets—put the Wildcats ahead 34-26 with 3:51 left in the half.
“The first half was a long half,” Smith said. “We just didn’t seem to be ready.”
Kentucky led only 38-33 early in the second half, but scored 21 of the next 29 points to up its advantage to 59-41 with 8:19 left. Kentucky’s lead peaked at 26 points and the Wildcats finished with a 43-35 edge on the boards.
“We settled down and took better shots,” Smith said, noting his team shot 55 percent from the field in the second half. “Our guys made a conscious effort on the boards.”
Smith freely substituted during the second half, even inserting seldom-used walk-on guard Preston LeMaster for more than 4 minutes while the game was still somewhat in doubt. Junior 7-footer Lukasz Obrzut, who, like most of Kentucky’s centers, had struggled early this season, scored a career-high nine points.
“One night doesn’t make a career,” Smith said, “but it’s a positive, something we can build on. Our post players have been much maligned, but they’re capable of doing that.”
Rondo, whose double-doubles this season have all been in points and rebounds, again proved to be Kentucky’s catalyst, finishing 6-of-9 from the field. During the first 4 minutes of the second half, the 6-foot-1 sophomore grabbed six rebounds, and later assisted on consecutive baskets by Bradley, Obrzut and Sparks.
“A lot of what we do depends on us making shots to set up our full-court defense,” High Point coach Bart Lundy said. “When we miss shots, a lot of that pressure goes away. They got some easy run-outs on our missed shots and that was a backbreaker.”
The Wildcats had 21 assists on 31 baskets, another number that pleased Smith.
Kentucky’s coach was a guard for High Point from 1969-73. He led the North Carolina school, which then was in the NAIA, in scoring as a senior and still ranks fifth on the Panthers’ career list with 1,589 points.
During High Point’s first two trips to Lexington, the Panthers lost to the Wildcats 102-49 in 2000 and 84-64 in 2002.
Kentucky sophomore swingman Joe Crawford missed his second straight game because of knee and hip injuries. Junior center Shagari Alleyne sat out because of academic issues and won’t play again until he resolves them, Smith said.