LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- After a season on the sideline, Kentucky's
Patrick Sparks celebrated his return to the basketball court.
Sparks and Rajon Rondo -- Kentucky's new starting guards --
combined for 21 points and led a strong defensive effort to help
the ninth-ranked Wildcats beat Coppin State 77-46 on Saturday in
the season opener for both teams.Chuck Hayes added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Wildcats,
who are 87-15 in home openers, including 26-3 in Rupp Arena.One of those three losses came three years ago to Western
Kentucky -- Sparks' former team. Sparks played two seasons for the
Hilltoppers, then sat out last season after transferring to
Kentucky."That's in the past and is something I had to go through,"
Sparks said. "It feels good playing in a real game."Sparks scored nine of his 12 points in the first half, when
Kentucky took a 40-18 lead. He also added five rebounds and three
assists with just one turnover in 21 minutes of action."Sparks hit some jump shots early and put us in a different
mode," Coppin State coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell said.Sparks and Rondo -- one of four heralded Kentucky freshmen --
keyed a defensive effort that forced 22 Coppin State turnovers.
Rondo finished with nine points and five steals."He was outstanding on and off the ball," Kentucky coach Tubby
Smith said.Coppin State played without Kelvin Green, the team's top
returning scorer, who is a Seventh-day Adventist and observes the
Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. The game
started at 4 p.m. EST.Green's presence probably wouldn't have made much of a
difference for the Eagles of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Unlike last season, when Kentucky struggled to put away another
MEAC team, Florida A&M, in the first round of the NCAA tournament,
the Wildcats had no trouble Saturday."All they did was play Kentucky basketball," Mitchell said.
"It was a rare time to see my team play with fear."Kentucky went just 11-of-32 from the field in the first half,
but made 6-of-13 3-pointers -- including three by Sparks -- to seize
control.During the first 12 minutes, Coppin State missed 11 of 12 shots
and committed eight turnovers to fall behind 22-6.Kentucky opened the second half with a 10-2 run that included
three dunks by Rondo -- one off an alley-oop pass from Sparks -- that
put the Wildcats up 50-20. They led by as many as 40 down the
stretch.Antwan Harrison led Coppin State with eight points and five
rebounds. The Eagles went just 1-of-12 from 3-point range and shot
33 percent from the field.