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Kentucky makes it look perfectly easy vs. Auburn

2/22/2015

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- There are mismatches, and then there is what happened in the first 11 minutes of the Auburn-Kentucky game Saturday night.

The top-ranked Wildcats bullied their way to a 30-4 lead, and Auburn still hadn't flushed a single field-goal attempt through the net. With that absurd point difference posted on the Rupp Arena scoreboard, Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns said one thought permeated through his team: "How'd we give up four points?"

"That's honestly our mindset," Towns said.

That might explain more than anything how the Wildcats have reached 27-0 on the season after an exceedingly easy 110-75 win over the outmanned Tigers. They find ways to challenge and push themselves even in situations as lopsided as that one.

"I've never been on a team like this," reserve big man Marcus Lee said. "We're such perfectionists. We don't want anybody to score on us like, ever."

They weren't perfect Saturday night, but it's hard to imagine a more dominant performance. They shot 64.7 percent for the game, outrebounded Auburn 44-22 and scored 62 points in the paint. Nine players had at least six points, with six in double figures, and their top four post guys -- Towns, Lee, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson -- went a combined 21-for-23 from the floor.

There were some ridiculous moments, such as Tyler Ulis throwing a pass behind his back to Cauley-Stein for a windmill dunk, or walk-on Tod Lanter hitting a 3 to give Kentucky its most points in a game since it scored 115 on Dec. 30, 2002, vs. Tennessee State.

Yet there was also the time when Auburn scored the first four points in the second half to whittle the lead down to 20 points, and John Calipari called a timeout to get his starting platoon back in. Or when Calipari yelled at the officials at halftime with a 52-26 lead.

No letdowns are allowed in the pursuit of perfection.

"That's all I've been talking about," Calipari said. "Let's not worry about all this clutter. Let's just be the best we can be."

Their best represents rarefied air. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said Friday that his Tigers, who do not start a player taller than 6-foot-8, would need "an extraordinary, superhuman effort" to win at Rupp. Even that might not be enough for most teams if Kentucky is clicking.

"It's nothing like anything we see all year long," Pearl said. "What they do offensively as far as pounding it inside, nobody in the league is even close to that. … I can't even imagine what their practices are like."

Towns offered a clue as to what those workouts look like, describing them as "slugfests" and "prize fights." The Wildcats' depth, especially in the frontcourt, allows future pros to bang against other lottery picks on a daily basis. The steady improvement of Towns -- who had 19 points and 10 rebounds -- and Johnson in the post and Cauley-Stein recently adding a mid-range jumper to his repertoire attest to that.

"Every time we step on the court, you have to bring it," Towns said. "Or you'll get embarrassed in practice."

The intrasquad competition sometimes extends into games. Lee had a dunk in the second half in which he leapt over Johnson, knocking his fellow big man down in the process. Is it possible to posterize a teammate?

"I was like, ‘Why'd you take my rebound away?'" Johnson said. "That has never happened. I was kind of mad at first, but then I saw Marcus had dunked on me, so it was all right."

"I did that a couple of times to my best friend in high school," Lee said. "So I kind of know what to do next to make sure he doesn't hate me."

Kentucky hasn't been challenged by opponents much its last three games, though that could change next week when they travel to improving Mississippi State on Wednesday and especially when they host No. 18 Arkansas on Saturday. Right now, though, they're mostly chasing history.

Calipari entered new territory, as he had previously coached two teams (1995-96 UMass and 2007-08 Memphis) who started the season 26-0 before losing. The Wildcats matched the longest winning streak in school history, tying the 1996 national championship team which lost in the SEC tournament final before winning it all. Coincidentally, 1996 Final Four MVP Tony Delk had his No. 00 jersey retired into the Rupp rafters at halftime Saturday night.

"I want to see this team go 40‑0," Delk said. "You don't want to lose a game now. You want to see a team like this finish what they started."

Pearl was asked if he thinks the Wildcats can win out. He said his main concern would be a tight whistle in the NCAA tournament curtailing some of Kentucky's advantages.

"If they let them play, which I hope they would in a big game, they should have a real good chance," Pearl said. "They're physically overwhelming."

And when pursuing a perfect season, it helps to have a perfectionist streak.