Less than three months into his first season coaching the nation’s all-time winningest program, John Calipari is poised to make good on his pledge to return Kentucky basketball to “its rightful place at the top of the mountain.’’
Any old win yesterday likely would have restored No. 2 Kentucky to the top of the Associated Press poll for the first time since 2003. However, the Wildcats got a dominating one, cruising, 101-70, past Arkansas and former UK alumnus John Pelphrey in Lexington.
“They just hit a buzz saw today,’’ Calipari said. “I think we would have smashed anyone in the country today. That’s not arrogance, but that’s as good as we’ve played for the first 20 minutes. We would have beaten a lot of teams today.’’
By keeping alive the nation’s only unblemished record, the Wildcats (19-0, 4-0 Southeastern) are almost certain to be No. 1 in the polls tomorrow. Top-ranked Texas has lost consecutive games, falling to Kansas State and Connecticut.
“They have a chance to be the best team in college basketball this year,’’ said Pelphrey, who has lost all three meetings against his alma mater as an opposing coach.
Kentucky scored the game’s first 10 points, stretched the lead to 30 by halftime, then added the first 14 points of the second half.
Among the many stars for Kentucky was freshman John Wall, who had 16 points and a game-high seven assists, and DeMarcus Cousins, who finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, securing his 10th double-double just seconds into the second half.
Courtney Fortson scored 21 points to lead Arkansas (8-11, 1-3), but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep up with the Wildcats’ scoring barrage.
Duke 60, Clemson 47 - Nolan Smith scored 22 points and the No. 7 Blue Devils wiped out an ugly memory from last season with a convincing road win over the No. 17 Tigers.
Last February, Duke (16-3, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) suffered its most lopsided defeat in nearly two decades, falling at Littlejohn Coliseum, 74-47. In the rematch, Smith and Duke’s defense ensured the Blue Devils a much happier finish.
Smith had 9 points during a 14-2 second-half run that put Duke ahead, 43-30, with 12:33 left. Clemson got no closer than 6 points the rest of the way.
Trevor Booker led the Tigers (15-5, 3-3) with 22 points, but it was Clemson’s fewest points at home since a 52-47 loss to Maryland Jan. 25, 2003.
Kansas 84, Iowa St. 61 - Cole Aldrich tied a season high with 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and the No. 3 Jayhawks cruised past the host Cyclones for their fourth straight win.
Kansas (18-1, 4-0 Big 12) forced 17 turnovers and held Craig Brackins, who torched the Jayhawks for 42 points in Ames last season, to just 13 on 5-of-13 shooting. Marquis Gilstrap had 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead Iowa State (12-7, 1-3).
Villanova 81, St. John’s 71 - In New York, Scottie Reynolds scored 19 points and the No. 4 Wildcats beat the Red Storm to match the best start in school history.
Villanova equaled the 1950-51 team by improving to 18-1, and is 7-0 in the Big East for the first time. The Wildcats beat St. John’s (12-7, 2-5) for the sixth straight time.
Syracuse 76, Marquette 71 - Wes Johnson scored 22 points, including a momentum-bursting alley-oop, and added 15 rebounds to lead the fifth-ranked Orange over the visiting Golden Eagles.
Kris Joseph added 14 points for Syracuse (19-1, 6-1 Big East) in picking up the slack after Marquette (11-8, 2-5) shut down Andy Rautins, who was held scoreless.
Michigan St. 65, Minnesota 64 - Kalin Lucas scored 22 points, Raymar Morgan added 17, and the No. 6 Spartans rallied to beat the host Golden Gophers in a game they never led until the final minutes.
The Spartans (17-3) have won eight straight overall and matched their best start in the Big Ten since also starting 7-0 during the 1977-78 season. Lawrence Westbrook had 16 points for the Gophers (12-7, 3-4) to become the 35th Minnesota player to reach 1,000 points.
Georgia 78, Tennessee 63 - Trey Thompkins scored 21 points and the host Bulldogs led by double digits most of the way to end the No. 8 Volunteers’ seven-game winning streak.
Georgia ended Tennessee’s streak of 10 wins in the series, including eight straight under coach Bruce Pearl.
Georgia (9-8, 1-3) made 7 of 12 3-point attempts to give first-year coach Mark Fox his first SEC win. The Bulldogs lost each of their first three conference games by no more than 4 points.
Scotty Hopson led Tennessee (15-3, 3-1) with 19 points and was the only Tennessee player to make a 3-pointer. The Vols made only 3 of 16 attempts beyond the 3-point line, including 3 of 6 by Hopson.
Oklahoma St. 73, Kansas St. 69 - In Manhattan, Kan., James Anderson scored 30 points and Obi Muonelo hit two key 3-pointers in the final minutes to boost the Cowboys past the No. 10 Wildcats, just six days after Kansas State beat No. 1 Texas on the same court.
The Wildcats (16-3, 3-2 Big 12) sliced a 6-point deficit to 1 on Curtis Kelly’s two free throws with 26.9 seconds to go. Kansas State fouled on each of its next two possessions but Nick Sidorakis iced the victory for Oklahoma State (15-4, 3-2) with a pair of free throws with five seconds left in a rough-and-tumble game that included three technical fouls and 36 turnovers.
The loss snapped Kansas State’s 14-game home winning streak, the longest in the 22-year history of Bramlage Coliseum.
West Virginia 71, Ohio St. 65 - Da’Sean Butler scored 21 points and the No. 11 Mountaineers came from 14 points down to beat the No. 21 Buckeyes (14-6) in Morgantown, W. Va.
Darryl Bryant added 14 points and Wellington Smith scored 11 for West Virginia (15-3), which beat Ohio State for the second straight season.
Georgetown 88, Rutgers 63 - Greg Monroe had 21 points and 14 rebounds to help the No. 12 Hoyas (15-3, 6-2 Big East) blow out the Scarlet Knights in Washington. Jonathan Mitchell scored 21 points for Rutgers (9-10, 0-7), which has lost eight straight and remains the only winless team in Big East play.
Purdue 69, Michigan 59 - JaJuan Johnson scored 21 points and E’Twaun Moore had 19 points and six assists to help the No. 13 Boilermakers (16-3, 4-3 Big Ten) get past the visiting Wolverines (10-9, 3-4).
Michigan played without guard Manny Harris, the conference’s top scorer, who was suspended for what coach John Beilein said was an act of unsportsmanlike conduct during practice Friday.
BYU 71, San Diego St. 69 - In San Diego, Jimmer Fredette scored 33 points and keyed a 15-0 run midway through the second half that carried the No. 14 Cougars (20-1, 5-0 Mountain West) to their 15th straight win.
Gonzaga 85, Loyola Marymount 69 - Freshman Elias Harris scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds as the No. 15 Bulldogs (16-3, 5-0 West Coast) won their eighth straight and beat the visiting Lions (10-11, 1-4) for the 29th time in 31 meetings.
Temple 62, Fordham 45 - Juan Fernandez scored 13 points and the No. 16 Owls extended their winning streak to six and the host Rams’ losing streak to 11.
Temple (17-3, 5-0 Atlantic 10) won for the 13th time in 14 games. The Owls have their best record after 20 games since their 1993-94 team also began 17-3.
Mississippi 73, LSU 63 - Chris Warren scored all 14 of his points in the final nine minutes to help the No. 22 Rebels (15-4, 3-2 SEC) hold off the Tigers (9-10, 0-5) in Baton Rouge, La.
Alabama 62, Mississippi St. 57 - Anthony Brock and JaMychal Green each made two free throws in the final 18 seconds to lift the Crimson Tide (12-7, 2-3 SEC) to the upset over the No. 23 Bulldogs (15-4, 3-1) in Tuscaloosa.