Kentucky cruises into big pair of games
Nemanja Mitrovic and Portland came out firing. No. 2 Kentucky’s athleticism overwhelmed the Pilots anyway.
Mitrovic finished with 20 points, shooting 6 of 12 from 3-point range, but Portland’s long-distance efforts weren’t enough to stop the Wildcats from routing the Pilots, 87-63 on Saturday.
"We came out firing and stayed in there with them for a little while, and then we made some mistakes and had some turnovers," Mitrovic said.
The Pilots (2-4) finished 11 of 23 from 3-point range and even outrebounded the Wildcats 39-38 despite giving up size and athleticism.
Kentucky (6-0) used an 18-3 first-half run to take a double-digit lead. After Portland pulled within six in the second half, the Wildcats put on a full-court press as part of an 18-4 run that put the game out of reach.
"I think at this level, basketball is competed in three different areas: athleticism, toughness and skill. Earlier in the week, I had to break it to them that Kentucky was a little more athletic," Portland coach Eric Reveno said. "We had to beat them with toughness and skill, and we weren’t able to do that consistently. Like Kentucky has shown, they get you in spurts."
Kentucky coach John Calipari said Friday he wanted the Wildcats to play more fluid without him having to call plays from the sideline before next week’s tough games – they play St. John’s on Thursday and No. 1 North Carolina on Saturday – and the Wildcats responded with their most efficient game so far, committing just four turnovers, their fewest in 18 years.
The Pilots trailed by 12 at halftime, but put together a run in the second half. Mitrovic hit his fifth 3-pointer, Thomas van der Mars went up strong over Anthony Davis and Dorian Cason hit a free throw to trim the Wildcats’ lead to 43-37.
"We can definitely shoot the ball," said Tim Douglas, who finished with 12 points. "We have some shooters that can knock down shots. This was one of our better nights."
After a timeout, Kentucky came out with a full-court press that flustered Portland. Cason threw the ball away to Jones, who started the fast break by finding Marquis Teague. Teague feathered a touch pass toward the rim that Davis finished for the alley-oop dunk.
Then Tanner Riley, who finished with 18, committed a turnover and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist slammed it over Derrick Rodgers as part of a three-point play that made it 50-37. A few minutes later, Miller’s 3-pointer gave Kentucky its first 20-point lead.
Teague finished with 14 points, eight assists and no turnovers while Kidd-Gilchrist had 13 points.
Kentucky now has several days to prepare for Thursday night’s matchup with the Red Storm before playing the Tar Heels in the final of a series of hyped early season matchups next week that also includes big nonconference games between Duke-Ohio State, Florida-Syracuse and Vanderbilt-Louisville.
Kentucky’s big first-half run made it 31-15 and featured several different Wildcats. Kidd-Gilchrist found Davis on a lob for a dunk, Miller hit a 3-pointer and Jones added a 3 of his own before slashing to the rim for a layup.
But the Pilots stayed within striking distance by hitting 3s. Mitrovic and Riley had three each in the first half, and Riley’s third cut it to 34-26 with 1:03 left before Kentucky scored the final four points of the half.
Mitrovic shot 46 percent from 3-point range last year, one of the best marks in the country, but made just nine over Portland’s first five games. Getting his stroke back against a quality opponent was one positive he took away from the game, he said, along with knowing what the team will need to fix as the season goes on.
"It helps a lot. They did some good things that will really help, like pressing us," Mitrovic said. "We need to get better there. But anytime you play a good team, you are going to make mistakes. We just have to get better."