No. 2 Kentucky 90, Wake Forest 60
Ashley Judd grabbed a copy of the Kentucky-Wake Forest boxscore and stared at the final numbers, shaking her head in wonder.
``It was flashbacks to '96 - a team that was so good we actually got mad if the other team touched the ball,'' said Judd, one of Kentucky's most famous fans. ``That was a really spectacular win.''
It's starting to look like the good old days for Kentucky's proud basketball program. John Calipari's top-seeded Wildcats are young and inexperienced, but no longer unproven in the NCAA tournament, during which their average margin of victory now stands at 29.5 points.
Darius Miller scored a career-high 20 points and Kentucky made easy work of No. 9 Wake Forest during a 90-60 rout in their second-round meeting Saturday night.
``They're having fun out there, which is what we want,'' Calipari said. ``As long as they keep having fun, playing harder than that other team - just enjoy playing - we'll be fine.''
Miller scored 16 points in the first half to help the Wildcats (34-2) build an early double-digit lead that ballooned to 31 in the second half. Kentucky advanced to the East Regional semifinals in Syracuse, N.Y., where it will play the winner of Sunday's second-round game between 12th-seeded Cornell and No. 4 Wisconsin.
Sitting two rows behind the Kentucky bench, Judd was jubilant, happily posing for a photo with four students who had painted their chests white and blue, spelling out ``CATS'' when they stood side-by-side. And the actress' reference to the 1996 national championship team seemed appropriate. That was the season Tony Delk set a school record for 3-pointers in an NCAA tournament game with seven - a record broken Thursday when Eric Bledsoe hit eight.
The last time Kentucky had played Wake Forest also was in 1996, during the NCAAs. The Wildcats won that game by 20.
Meanwhile, Kentucky fans seemed to delight in the announcement that Kansas, the top seed in the Midwest Regional, had been upset by Northern Iowa, taking one of the top contenders out of the picture.
``I thought we had a great chance before Kansas lost,'' Judd said.
Kentucky players had been watching the Kansas game before they took the court, but Calipari made them shut it off, telling them to focus on their own game, which they clearly did.
Now the spotlight will shine even brighter on Kentucky, which is looking increasingly like the team to beat.
``I don't think that adds any pressure,'' Miller said. ``As long as we come out and play the best we can, that's all we can control.''
Kentucky's performance against Wake Forest was balanced. No player had a stunning statistical line but several had good ones.
DeMarcus Cousins, turning in a dunk-filled performance in the paint, had 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting, while John Wall scored 14 and Bledsoe 13.
Al-Farouq Aminu had 16 points for Wake Forest (20-11), which was down by 16 at halftime and never mounted a credible comeback attempt during the final 20 minutes. C.J. Harris added 11 points for the Demon Deacons.
In their first-round game, Kentucky built a 40-point lead while cruising to a 100-71 victory over Atlantic Sun Conference champion East Tennessee State. The Wildcats seemed only marginally more challenged by their second-round opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
``I've been in the ACC 10 years,'' Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. ``That's as good a basketball team as we played against in the 10 years I've been here.''
In a suite across from the Wake Forest bench, former Demon Deacons standout and current New Orleans Hornets All-Star Chris Paul sat, subdued, with family and friends.
Longtime Wake Forest fans had seen this all before. These teams had met four previous times, and Kentucky had won each time by 20 or more, the last two in the NCAA tournament.
Needing overtime to squeeze out a dramatic 81-80 win over Texas in the first round, Wake Forest looked worn down and outmanned as the Wildcats pounded their way inside for one easy basket after another. Kentucky scored 52 points in the paint and shot 60 percent. The Wildcats even outrebounded Wake Forest 42-34, a surprising statistic given that the Demon Deacons had outrebounded the Longhorns by 25 in the first round.
Wake Forest appeared ready to give Kentucky a fight in the opening minutes and the score was tied at 19 after Harris' 3-pointer. Then Kentucky stomped on the proverbial accelerator, starting with a 7-0 run capped by Cousins' dunk. Another dunk by Cousins capped an 8-0 surge to close the first half with the Wildcats leading 44-28.
Wall opened the second half with a 3, igniting a 16-5 run that included Bledsoe's 3 and Patrick Patterson's alley-oop jam on a feed from Miller.
Bledsoe's soaring one-handed jam and end-to-end layup highlighted a quick 6-0 spurt soon after that pushed the lead to 68-37 with 12:41 to go.
From then on, the New Orleans Arena crowd, dominated by Kentucky blue, continued to roar with every Kentucky highlight, and a Bourbon Street block party seemed certain to follow.