LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—John Calipari knew there was a chance his Kentucky team would start “drinking the poison” after the Wildcats roared through their first 10 games unbeaten.
And for the better part of 30 minutes Saturday against Austin Peay, they looked overconfident. Sloppy ballhandling. Pedestrian defense. Questionable shot selection. All the signs of a team starting to believe its own press clippings.
Good thing Patrick Patterson came up with an antidote.
The junior forward scored nine of his 21 points during a decisive second-half run to lift the Wildcats to a 90-69 victory and move Kentucky (11-0) within one victory of becoming the first college basketball program to reach 2,000.
The Wildcats go for the milestone Monday against Drexel.
Not that Patterson was concerned with making history after a performance his coach called “soft.”
“I agree with him,” Patterson said. “My first half was pretty much just horrible on my part. … I got some transition baskets in the second half. I did a lot better running up and down the court and hitting open shots.”
Patterson did enough to help Calipari break Adolph Rupp’s record for the best start by a first-year head coach at Kentucky. Rupp won his first 10 games with the Wildcats in 1931.
Calipari, however, was more concerned about his team’s erratic play than passing Rupp.
“Today, I’ll be honest with you, I was just trying to shove them over the finish line,” Calipari said. “I was coaching every bounce of the ball, which I don’t want to do.”
Austin Peay didn’t give him much of a choice. The Govs (7-5) stuck around well into the second half and pulled within 70-61 on a 3-pointer by Caleb Brown with 8:25 remaining.
Only then did Patterson take over, shrugging off some early struggles to help Kentucky improve its best start since 1992-93.
Patterson began a 12-0 run with a layup off a nice pass from Daniel Orton, then added the free throw after getting fouled. Patterson’s two most spectacular points of the day came moments later thanks to a little bit of ad-libbing by freshman point guard John Wall.
Eric Bledsoe was leading the Kentucky break when he hit a streaking Wall for what appeared to be an alley-oop. Wall had other ideas, touching the ball to Patterson for a dunk.
Patterson added a tip-in on Kentucky’s next possession and Darnell Dodson followed with a 3-pointer to push it to 80-61 before Patterson capped the run with a pair of free throws. The Wildcats made all 18 shots at the foul line, the third-best performance in school history.
Two days after Bob Knight cited Calipari as a sign of a lack of integrity in college athletics—a charge Calipari said he disagreed with—the crowd at Rupp Arena was relatively tame. The only outward appearance of anger came from a fan who held up a sign taking a shot at Knight.
Wall finished 17 points and six assists while DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points and eight rebounds for Kentucky.
Yet the Wildcats were hardly satisfied even though they never trailed after the game’s first 5 minutes.
Wall had two health scares, turning his knee after colliding with Brown early in the second half, then needing a bandage to cover a cut over his right eye sustained while driving to the basket a few minutes later.
“We’ve got to learn how to finish out games,” Wall said. “I think once we learn how to do that we’ll make it hard for teams to come back.”
The ho-hum performance was part of a letdown Calipari feared after Kentucky’s last home appearance, a thrilling, two-point win over North Carolina two weeks ago. The Wildcats followed that up with another squeaker over Connecticut at Madison Square Garden before blowing out Indiana on the road last Saturday.
The high-profile triumphs started speculation that the Wildcats could run the table. Calipari has done his best to keep his players grounded—telling reporters he thinks his team was “5-5” at best—and for periods the Wildcats looked average against the Govs.
Playing consistently is part of the maturation process, though Calipari knows his team needs to grow up quickly with Southeastern Conference play beginning in two weeks.
“If we play the way we played (today), we are not going to make as many baskets because they are going to defend us better,” Calipari said.
Wesley Channels led Austin Peay with 21 points and Duran Roberson added 16, but the Govs couldn’t keep up once Patterson and Cousins got going. Kentucky outscored Austin Peay 44-16 in the paint and outrebounded the Govs 44-24.
“They are too big and strong inside for us,” Austin Peay coach Dave Loos said. “We had a chance, but they are very good. They absolutely dominated us on the board.”