No. 3 Kentucky rips Eastern Michigan for 500th win at Rupp Arena
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)
What pleased Aaron Harrison even more than a good night scoring was seeing Kentucky teammates such as Willie Cauley-Stein also thrive, particularly when the ball was lobbed in the air for easy dunks.
Both Wildcats had plenty of good examples to reflect on against Eastern Michigan.
Aaron Harrison scored 22 points, Cauley-Stein added 15, and third-ranked Kentucky earned its 500th Rupp Arena win by beating the Eagles 81-63 on Wednesday.
"I could've played a lot better," said Harrison, who made 9 of 11 free throws along with five baskets including three from beyond the arc. "Staying focused is one thing I need to work on. I made some shots today compared to Monday (3 of 8 from the field)."
Two days after escaping Cleveland State with a late rally, the Wildcats (6-1) were more methodical in improving to 500-62 lifetime in the 37-year-old home named for legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Leading just 35-32 at halftime, Kentucky steadily built it to double digits with 12:52 left and led by as many as 21 with 2:39 remaining.
Kentucky controlled the glass, outrebounding the Eagles 52-33 including 19 offensive and scoring 23 second-chance points. The Wildcats' only blemish was 20 turnovers leading to 18 points for the Eagles.
"We're getting better," said Wildcats coach John Calipari, adding that he got some perspective on his young, talented team from former Wildcats coach Joe B. Hall.
"We're showing signs. Coach Hall made me feel good yesterday, he said, `would you stop? You have the youngest team in the country. Not always going to come on our terms. It will hit them at some point and you'll say, wow, they're finally figuring it out. We're not there yet."
Perhaps, but Kentucky took a small step forward.
Julius Randle overcame foul trouble that sidelined him in the first half to contribute all 14 points and nine of his 10 rebounds after halftime in posting his seventh double-double.
The alley-oops helped Cauley-Stein shoot 6 of 12 from the field coming off the bench after last-minute confusion had Marcus Lee starting instead of him. The 7-footer shook it off to grab eight rebounds and tie a career high with seven blocks.
"I've been playing good coming off the bench, but it's either way," Cauley-Stein said. "It really doesn't bother me if I don't (start). If I do, hooray. If I don't, then I can just come off the bench."
Aaron Harrison added seven rebounds and James Young six with six points before 22,721 including actress and Kentucky native Ashley Judd. Dakari Johnson added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats.
Kentucky also held EMU (5-1) to 24-of-66 shooting (36 percent) in dealing the Eagles their first loss.
Darell Combs' 23 points led Eastern Michigan, which got just seven combined points from leading scorer Karrington Ward and guard Raven Lee, both of whom entered the game averaging 18 points per contest.
"I give Kentucky a lot of credit," Eagles coach Rob Murphy said. "They play pretty good defense and their size got the best of us."
While Kentucky's victory margin was much closer than the 90-38 beating it laid on EMU in January's first meeting, the Wildcats were also facing a similarly improved team off to its best start this century and entered the game beating opponents by nearly 20 points per contest.
Calipari got his wish that his team didn't have to rally as it did against Cleveland State, but Kentucky did have to overcome another slow start.
This one lasted just several minutes though thanks to Aaron Harrison, who scored five straight points for a 12-10 lead that grew to 29-19 with 4:41 left in the half. Despite a silent half from Randle (one rebound, two fouls) Kentucky played fairly solid in shooting 44 percent and outrebounding the Eagles 21-16.
But the Wildcats led just 35-32 at the break because Eastern Michigan didn't waver, closing with a 13-6 run including a 3-pointer by Combs. Randle's first basket provided a 40-34 lead coming out of the break and Kentucky slowly built on it from there.
"I had bad rhythm. I didn't get to the necessary spots," Randle said of his first half. "Second half, I ran the floor a lot better."
Andrew Harrison finished with eight points for Kentucky.