No. 3 Kentucky ready to start march to 3,000

BY foxsports • December 23, 2009

Ramon Harris enjoyed the confetti. He donned the T-shirt commemorating Kentucky's 2,000th win. He breathed in the moment as the Wildcats made history.

Twenty minutes later, he was over it.

The senior forward understands the unique bond between the Wildcats and the Bluegrass. He knows the importance of becoming the first program to reach 2,000 victories, a milestone the school reached with an 88-44 win over Drexel on Monday.

He also knows getting to 2,000 will be just a footnote in a few months when the calendar flips to March.

``It's a blessing but we're looking at the big picture,'' Harris said. ``And the big picture is (being) the last team standing on the court. It really starts now.''

The floor at Rupp Arena wasn't even clear of the streamers that rained down from the rafters during the postgame celebration when talk turned toward a much smaller number: eight, as in Kentucky's pursuit of an eighth NCAA championship.

The Wildcats (12-0) certainly looked like a legitimate contender while putting together their most complete game of the season in dismantling the Dragons.

It's the kind of performance coach John Calipari said his team is capable of when it plays together. It helps when freshman point guard John Wall plays nearly flawlessly.

The budding star finished with 16 points, seven assists and no turnovers in 26 minutes. And for all of his athleticism, it's his decision-making that has won over his coach. Wall is averaging 7.0 assists per game and could challenge the school record for assists in a season - 232 by Roger Harden in 1985-86 - if he stays healthy.

``He is the main cog in this little machine we got going here,'' Calipari said. ``He is the guy that when he plays sloppy, we look sloppy and when he plays a tighter game we look like a juggernaut.''

The victory matched Kentucky's best start since 1983-84 and with a string of seemingly winnable games coming in the next few weeks - starting on Wednesday against Long Beach State (6-5) - there's buzz building about the Wildcats going undefeated on their way to cutting down the nets at the Final Four.

It's buzz the players aren't exactly trying to quell.

``We are on our way to a national title, that's what we have wanted all year,'' said forward Jon Hood. ``We are waiting and working toward that. Everyday we have to get better if we want to achieve that.''

It's a point Calipari has tried to drive home to his young team even after it survived a handful of close calls in the opening weeks. Even as Kentucky managed to pass tough tests against North Carolina, Stanford, Connecticut and Miami (Ohio), he stressed to his players that winning wasn't enough.

The message appears to be getting through. Calipari's praise after beating Drexel wasn't explicitly for Wall, but for role players like DeAndre Liggins.

The sophomore guard spent the first six weeks of the season firmly planted on the end of the bench, fueling the possibility that he would transfer at the end of the semester.

Liggins admitted on Tuesday he had been suspended, but didn't specify the reason. Neither did Calipari, who only said Liggins - like the rest of his players - struggled to meet the parameters of an agreement with his coaches on what was expected of him.

``You put together a contract for kids of, 'This is what you have to do before you play,''' Calipari said. ``They have to do it and you live by it. If it takes them longer than they were supposed to, then that's too bad.''

It took Liggins longer than he anticipated. Yet he hung in there, and Calipari has rewarded his perseverance with playing time.

On Monday, Liggins scored six points in 11 minutes and impressed his coach with the kind of defensive intensity Calipari hopes is contagious.

``When we put DeAndre in, it was a lift,'' Calipari said. ``I know that the guy he guarded was like 'Please, take this guy out of the game.' You couldn't bounce it, move or spin. If he will do that, it is easy to play him.''

Liggins gives the Wildcats perhaps another weapon off the bench. Though Calipari has talked about tightening his rotation before Kentucky starts play in the Southeastern Conference, the effort he's received from his reserves may make it a more difficult task than he imagined.

It's a good problem to have.

``We are getting closer,'' Calipari said. ``I like that we have a full complement of players right now.''

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