LEXINGTON — For me, the highlight of Kentucky’s home opener in last Friday night’s 52-point victory over Pennsylvania’s Lafayette squad was little-used guard Twany Beckham’s layup with 1:18 remaining on the clock.
That’s because his first-ever basket as a UK player helped the Wildcats hit the century mark on the scoreboard with the emptying crowd cheering on as Kentucky dominated in a 101-49 blowout.
Even though coach John Calipari’s teams are fun to watch, the 100-point (or more) scoring output was only the seventh time his Wildcats have reached the century mark during his three-plus years at Kentucky.
Calipari’s first UK squad, led by the clan of John Walls, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, scored at least 100 points four times during the 2009-10 campaign (against Sam Houston State, Hartford, Arkansas and East Tennessee State).
During Calipari’s second year, the nine-loss Wildcats who made the Final Four in Houston, had failed to reach 100 points a single time.
Last winter during its national championship run, Kentucky hit the 100-point mark twice — a 108-58 victory over Marist in the season opener and a memorable 102-90 shootout with Indiana in Atlanta.
I just love the high-scoring affairs, just like the old days of legendary Adolph Rupp’s fast break offense, especially when Dan Issel’s scoring machine roared in full speed.
As you may recall, during Issel’s three-year varsity career (1967 to 1970), the 6-8 center helped Kentucky pump in at least 100 points in a total of 30 games and there was no shot clock back then, either.
As a senior, Issel, with his 33.9-point average, and the top-ranked 26-2 Cats hit the 100-point mark 13 times, including two NCAA tournament matchups against Notre Dame (a 109-99 victory) and Jacksonville (a 106-100 upset loss).
And don’t forget Rick Pitino’s inaugural 1989-90 team at UK. His undersized, unranked Wildcats hit the century mark eight times, including a spectacular 100-95 victory over Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Jackson and LSU. By the way, that 1990 February game against LSU — which was not televised live because of NCAA probation — is perhaps the most exciting one that I have ever seen at Rupp Arena in my sportswriting career.
Anyhow, will the Wildcats hit another century record against this week’s lightweight opponents Morehead State (on Wednesday) and Long Island University-Brooklyn (Friday)?
We’ll see, but it obviously would be awfully nice if that happens.
Like many fans, I’m just plain crazy when Kentucky scores 100 points or more.
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If UK sophomore Kyle Wiltjer and other downtown scorers continue to shoot well from the three-point line, we can also expect to see perhaps a few more 100-point games this season.
Against Lafayette, Wiltjer took the game scoring honors, gunning in 23 points, including a career-high seven 3-pointers (in 11 attempts).
“He’s not going to go 7 for 11 from the three every time, but I believe he can go 4 for 11 or 5 for 11 every time,” Calipari said. “I believe he’s that good.”
In addition to Wiltjer, who at 6-10 may be the tallest player in the country who specializes in three-point shooting, the Cats have other long-bomb weapons in freshman star Archie Goodwin and Middlesboro product Julius Mays. Even Calipari said he isn’t afraid if junior guard Jarrod Polson pulls up for a three-point field goal.
In the first three games of this young season, Wiltjer has made 12 of 19 three-pointers, while Goodwin has hit 4 of 6 treys.
“We’ve got pretty good three-point shooters,” Calipari said.
On being able to shoot baskets from anywhere on the floor last Friday night, Wiltjer commented, “It was a great feeling. I really want to give credit to my teammates just finding me the ball.”
UK’s Nerlens Noel, a 6-10 freshman, marveled at Wiltjer’s shooting performance.
Noel said the Portland, Ore., native is “an assassin, a sniper. He gets the ball in the rim. It is amazing how effective he is on the perimeter.”
And Kentucky hopes to take advantage of its outside shooting by having the new twin towers — Noel and 7-0 Willie Cauley-Stein — on the front line.
“They’re truly post players. I have two of them,” Calipari said. “So we’ve got to play that way. Force you (the opponent) to double team and then we’ll kick it out and shoot threes.”
But the UK boss still wants his big men to look for the basket first.
“They can score. They’re quick and agile,” he said. “They can pass but I want them to first of all score the ball in there (near the goal).”
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Jamie H. Vaught, a long-time sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.