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By LARRY VAUGHT

NEW ORLEANS — So much for Kentucky’s lack of postseason experience.

The No. 2 Wildcats certainly played like a team on a NCAA championship quest here Thursday night when they routed East Tennessee State University 100-71 in the NCAA South Region. Not bad for a team that doesn’t have any NCAA experience with its top eight players.

“Hopefully, we’re this good. I’m not sure if we are, but we’ll see if we can keep it going,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari.

For a bunch of NCAA newbies, Kentucky made it look easy — something other highly seeded teams (Vanderbilt, Georgetown, Villanova, Baylor) couldn’t do in the opening round of the tourney. If anything, Kentucky’s play was reminiscent of how the Cats used to dismantle opponents, especially in the early rounds, when Rick Pitino had the Cats on their dominant NCAA run a few years ago.

Granted, ETSU is no Kansas — the nation’s No. 1 team — and no 16 seed had ever knocked off a top seed in the opening round. But Kentucky made this look easy, and maybe that’s why Big Blue fans who flocked to Nashville in record numbers last week stayed away from here to hopefully save money for a Final Four trip to Indianapolis in two weeks.

ETSU coach Murry Bartow made it sound like the UK fans might be smart.

“Kentucky jumped out on us. Our scouting report said they couldn’t make 3’s and they made 15 of them. So, obviously, if the rest of the tournament they shoot the ball the way they did tonight, they’re obviously going to be a very tough out. Tough to beat,” Bartow said.

Yes, they will. The Cats were 15-for-33 from 3-point range. Eric Bledsoe was 8-for-9 to break the UK NCAA record that current staff member Tony Delk set when he made seven in the 1996 national title game win over Syracuse.

“Tony who?” Bledsoe joked.

It was that kind of night for the Cats. Everything went Kentucky’s way in this game from John Wall’s banked 3-pointer to Ramon Harris’ line drive 3-pointer to numerous other bounces. But Kentucky didn’t need any luck in this game because it played like a vastly superior team. The Cats went on an early 14-0 run — with DeMarcus Cousins watching from the bench — to take a 23-10 lead, and the game was never close again.

What this game might have shown is that the NCAA tourney will actually bring out the best in UK much like it did North Carolina last year when the talented Tar Heels rolled to the championship.

Kentucky’s focus did not always stay sharp during the season, one reason it didn’t win more games by big margins. However, that was not a problem here Thursday night.

“I think we could actually be getting ready to play our best. We just have to stay focused and not let anything distract us,” said Bledsoe, who had a career-high 29 points.

“We are kind of excited. This is big deal. The last couple of years we didn’t make it to the tournament, so this is nice. I know Kentucky was in NIT last year and fans didn’t like that.”

But what about the so-called pressure of no NCAA experience combined with expectations so many have for this team to win it all?

“It ain’t no pressure. We have had high expectations all season. We just have to play and stay focused like we did tonight. If we do, we are fine,” Bledsoe said.

Next on Saturday night will come Wake Forest, which beat Texas 81-80 in overtime in a game that ended at 12:30 a.m. today, thanks to a running 15-foot jump by guard Ish Smith with less than two seconds to play. A win in that game would send UK to Syracuse for the East Region semifinals next week.

Yet Bartow had a big warning for Wake Forest — or any future Kentucky opponent.

“When I saw the draw, I knew a lot about their talent level, and I knew a lot that they were really good offensively. I just didn’t know they were so good on the defensive end,” Bartow said after his team went 23-for-64 from the field and had 11 shots blocked.

“They were the best defensive team in the SEC. They were the best offensive team in the SEC, and they probably got the most talent in the SEC. So if they start making shots the way they made them tonight, they’re obviously going to be very hard to beat.

“They can get to the paint. They’ve got a great transition game, and they can really guard. They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the country. So if the perimeter jump shots are going down, they are going to be pretty hard to beat.”

And the lack of tourney experience won’t matter one bit.

14 Responses to Are the Cats really this good? Even Calipari doesn’t know

  • Andy P. says:

    Great job Larry

  • BarryRussell says:

    Talent was on display – experience not needed. Defense will win the title for this team. Great offense is gravy. GO CATS!!

  • Jackie says:

    I LOOOOOOOVE this team!!!!!!

  • LindaS says:

    I’m in Big Blue Heaven! GO CATS! 33-2

  • BarryRussell says:

    Linda S and Jackie – Me too on both accounts!

  • Jim Boyers says:

    I fail to see how everyone thinks Kansas is so superior to this team. Don’t get me wrong, they are GOOD, but I have watched them on several occasions this season and haven’t been overly impressed. On a neutral court, everyone healthy, both teams playing their best, I think UK wins relatively easily. You can call me crazy, but I just don’t see the fascination with KU. They are no where near as talented as the Cats. The only advantage they have is in experience and I’m pretty sure that UK has shown how overrated THAT can be. UK’s defense would destroy them and Aldrich wouldn’t stand a chance inside against our offense. Collins would probably fair pretty well, but one man isn’t going to beat this team. I just hope our boys get to wear their road blues one more time, because THAT would be AWESOME!!

    Big Blue Nation could not have asked for a better start to the tourney. This team exploded right out of the gate. If I remember correctly, even the 96 team took most of a half to get going in their first game, but it only took these guys 2 minutes! That was a very loud and proud statement sent out by the Cats!! What memories this season has already created and they just keep on coming!

    LAST NIGHT, THIS TEAM PLAYED LIKE IT WAS ON A MISSION! LIKE NO ONE COULD STAND IN ITS’ WAY! LIKE CAL HAS WANTED THEM TO ALL YEAR! IF THIS IS HOW THEY PLAY EVERY GAME, YOU CAN HAND THEM THE TITLE RIGHT NOW!!

    BRING ON THE DEACONS!!!

    GO BIG BLUE!!!

  • larry vaught says:

    Big Blue Heaven is about full right now.
    I say bring on Kansas. If the Cats play, they beat anybody in the country

  • KY_Wildcat_AL says:

    Jim… I agree with you.
    I also have watched KU and am not as impressed as everyone seems to be with them. Good? yes, great? not in my opinion. Time may tell… like in 2 weeks or so.

  • bryan mceuen says:

    We gotta stay focus the team were playing next and worry about Kansas when the time come guys.We don’t need to speed forward to fast one game at a time.There’s a lot of buisness to do before we can talk about Kansas.GO CATS!!!

  • Jim Boyers says:

    I completely agree bryan. I was just venting after listening to all the talking heads continue to spew their rhetoric about Kansas, even after they were put to the test by LEHIGH for 30 minutes!! They still continue to sell UK short and verbally hand the title to Kansas. I truly am focused on tomorrow’s game. It’s going to be fun!!

    GO BIG BLUE!!!!

  • larry vaught says:

    Cats will beat Kansas. Just wait and see

  • bryan mceuen says:

    Larry i agree too,but Kansas and our cats has business to do before that game becomes a reality.

  • Vikram says:

    Hope CATS destroy Wake Forest the way they did ETSU. I just have ten nails to bite!!!

  • larryvaught says:

    Vikram, I think you speak for the whole Big Blue Nation

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