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Wednesday, February 8, 2012
TMA: Who exactly is stopping Kentucky?

By Myron Medcalf

No. 1 Kentucky 78, No. 7 Florida 58: They weren’t in the same league. That much was clear early.

Here I am watching two top-10 teams battle Tuesday night and I was baffled by the gap between them. Before they crushed the Gators, the Wildcats had established their stance as America’s and the SEC’s best team.

The only legitimate knock against Kentucky was how soft the early portion of its SEC schedule had been. Well, the Wildcats answered those questions by crushing the team that many viewed as their greatest challengers in the SEC.

Even when the Gators kept up with Kentucky early, it looked like they were in sixth gear and the Wildcats were still in first. They hadn’t really revved up their powerful engine yet. Just cruising.

And then, John Calipari’s squad stopped messing around and decided to make a “Yes, we’re the best” statement. A tie game (17-17) with 9 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the first half quickly turned into a rout after Kentucky closed the first half on a 21-9 run and secured a 38-26 edge at halftime.

The bleeding never stopped. Midway through the second half, the Wildcats led by 20 points and they looked like they were back in cruise control.

Who can stop this Kentucky offense, especially with Marquis Teague (12 points, 10 assists, five TOs) evolving into a confident distributor? The Wildcats hit 53 percent of their field goal attempts. They were 9-for-15 from the 3-point line. They didn’t miss a free throw (11-for-11).

Doron Lamb (18 points) led a Kentucky attack of five scorers who recorded at least nine points. The Wildcats outscored the Gators 16-6 on fast breaks but it felt like 50-6 the way they blazed up and down the court like Usain Bolt with a basketball in his hands.

Now, let’s talk about Anthony Davis. I think he deserves his own set of paragraphs.

I’m a huge boxing fan. I’m a huge Mike Tyson fan. There was a stretch, even when he was past his prime, where most fighters didn’t even want to get into the ring with the former champ. They were scared and intimidated.

That’s the way collegiate players compete against Davis. He’s such a defensive juggernaut that they’d rather shoot jump shots than challenge his interior prowess.

The Gators have made more 3-pointers than any team in the country (247). But instead of using the 3-ball to balance their offense against the Wildcats, it became their only scoring option.

With Davis (four blocks, two steals) disrupting shots all over the floor, the Gators shot nine 3s in the first half and 18 in the second. They only connected on 22 percent of them.

Davis’ performance Tuesday night, one that included 16 points and six rebounds, should have proven to any doubters that the freshman is America’s best player. And his team is definitely the top squad in the country right now.

No. 3 Ohio State 87, Purdue 84: It wasn’t Ohio State’s best performance. But the Buckeyes held off a desperate Purdue team in one of best games of the night.

A Boilermakers squad that shot 52 percent from the field and only committed three turnovers had its chances to pull off the upset late.

Down 81-76 with a minute to play, the Boilermakers missed three consecutive shots on one of its final possessions. William Buford secured a loose ball and finished with a pivotal dunk on the other end to expand the lead.

But the Boilermakers wouldn’t go away quietly. They pulled to within four on a D.J. Byrd 3-pointer with 17 seconds to play. And a Robbie Hummel 3-pointer with 8 seconds on the clock cut Ohio State’s lead to three. But it wasn’t enough to stop the slump. The Boilermakers have lost five of their last seven games.

The Buckeyes (52 percent from the field, 56 percent from beyond the arc), however, showcased their versatility. Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger suffered from foul trouble in the second half. Sullinger also missed time late when he got hurt on a rebound.

But Buford, who scored a career-high 29 points, stepped up when his team needed him most. The senior doesn’t get the praise he deserves. But he’s one of main reasons that Thad Matta’s versatile squad has the potential to go far in March.

Evansville 65, No. 15 Creighton 57: There’s trouble in Omaha, Neb., right now. A Creighton team that had won 11 in row has now lost back-to-back games after Tuesday night’s loss to Evansville.

The Aces were strict defenders. They held Creighton to a 4-for-18 clip from the 3-point-line and forced 16 turnovers.

The Bluejays recorded just one field goal in the final 5:25 of the game. Doug McDermott, the No. 3 scorer in the country, recorded 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds but was quiet down the stretch.

In Creighton’s three MVC losses, the Bluejays struggled when their star couldn’t find a late rhythm.

The loss proved that the Bluejays need more consistent offensive production from their other starters (9-for-23 combined). It also upped the stakes for No. 15 Creighton’s huge showdown with MVC leader Wichita State Saturday.