Kentucky routs Drexel to hit 2,000-win mark

John Calipari spent weeks downplaying Kentucky’s pursuit of 2,000

wins, saying his team needed to be focused on getting better, not

making history.

Moments after the third-ranked Wildcats routed Drexel 88-44

to become the first NCAA team to reach 2,000 victories, Calipari

admitted it’s pretty good when you can do both.

“We weren’t a part of many of those 2,000 wins [but] we had a

job to do and that was drag us across the line before that other

blue team got there,” Calipari said, referring to North Carolina as

he stood on the confetti-strewn floor at Rupp Arena. “This is a

special moment for this program and this state.”

The future looks pretty bright, too.

DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson scored 18 points

apiece as Kentucky (12-0) roared into history with easily its most

dominant performance of the season. Superstar freshman John Wall

had 16 points and seven assists.

Kentucky improved to 2,000-635-1 in 107 seasons, just ahead

of North Carolina’s 1,992 victories. Kansas is third with 1,980.

“From the beginning to the end, getting to 2,000 wins proves

that Kentucky has been the strongest college basketball program,”

former Kentucky star Dan Issel said.

The Wildcats entered the record books in style. Cousins and

Wall took control early and Kentucky pulled away with the kind of

dazzling play that should give it a pretty good head start over the

Tar Heels on the race to 3,000.

The Wildcats shot 53 percent, outrebounded the Dragons 45-22

and could have won even more emphatically if Calipari hadn’t

started substituting liberally with about seven minutes left.

“That’s as good as we’ve played together,” Calipari said. “We

hit a couple of shots early and kept going.”

Samme Givens led Drexel (6-6) with 11 points, but the Dragons

shot just 31 percent from the field and spent most of the game as

invited guests to Kentucky’s celebration.

It was a party more than 106 years in the making.

The first win was an 11-10 squeaker over the Lexington YMCA

on Feb. 18, 1903.

The program needed 66 years to reach 1,000 victories.

Students celebrated the milestone with cake alongside legendary

coach Adolph Rupp at Memorial Coliseum in 1969.

This party was a little bigger.

Streamers showered the court moments after the final buzzer

while players donned black T-shirts commemorating the occasion.

“I saw stuff flying, we were just trying to enjoy ourselves,”

forward Josh Harrellson said. “The crowd was going wild. They kept

getting louder and louder.”

Maybe it was out of relief more than anything.

Though the Wildcats needed just 40 years to go from 1,000 to

2,000 — an average of 25 wins a year — getting to 2,000 first

wasn’t exactly a sure thing.

Though the last four decades have included three national

titles and seven Final Four appearances, they have also featured a

couple ugly episodes. Kentucky narrowly avoided the death penalty

following a recruiting scandal involving former coach Eddie Sutton

in the late 1980s.

Rick Pitino revived the program during the 1990s, and for the

last few years Kentucky’s march toward becoming the first school to

2,000 seemed inevitable.

But the lead over North Carolina has eroded over the last few

years, particularly during Billy Gillispie’s tumultuous tenure. The

Tar Heels shaved 30 games off Kentucky’s lead in the last two

seasons and began the year just four games back.

Suddenly the marathon had turned into a sprint.

Calipari admitted the math was difficult. He wasn’t sure his

talented but largely inexperienced Wildcats could get to 2,000

before the Tar Heels.

Wall and company did their best to ease his mind.

Before a crowd that included Gov. Steve Beshear, former coach

Joe B. Hall and program luminaries like Kenny Walker and Jamal

Mashburn, Kentucky played with an urgency more befitting late

March.

Kentucky needed less than four minutes to build a

double-digit lead behind the kind of intensity that was lacking in

a ho-hum win over Austin Peay on Saturday.

“We can’t play that bad against these guys,” Drexel coach

Bruiser Flint said. “We were awful.”

Wall did a little bit of everything, finding Cousins for open

baskets early as the Wildcats raced to a quick 15-3 lead and then

showing his breathtaking ability in the open court as Kentucky

pulled away.

He scored the last six points of the half, all on layups, all

with a relatively high degree of difficulty, including one in which

he wrapped the ball behind his back from his left hand to his right

hand at full speed before putting it in off the glass.

The ebullient guard pointed toward the stands behind the

basket after the ball splashed through the net, and the party was

on.

The Wildcats led 56-20 at the break. When Patterson opened

the second half with a 3-pointer, the crowd started holding up

signs like “UK2K” and counting the minutes until the program’s spot

in the history books was secure.

“We just wanted to be the ones to finish it off,” forward

Ramon Harris said. “There are a lot of guys and coaches that were a

part of this. We just happened to be the ones celebrating.”