LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In a sleepy season for college basketball, with scoring down and attendance, TV ratings and general interest dipping along with it, Kentucky has given the sport something no one else has: a solid, eye-catching, long-running show.
The Wildcats' pursuit of perfection, which made its March Madness debut Thursday night with a 79-56 victory over No. 16 Midwest seed Hampton, has drawn attention from coast to coast. That is what happens when you are 35-0.
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"Yeah, I watch a lot of basketball. I've seen Kentucky play a bunch of times," Quinton Chievous of Hampton said before he saw them in person at the Yum! Center, which was loaded with loud Kentucky fans.
Chievous, son of former Queens high school star Derrick (Holy Cross), gamely played on an ankle that he injured in Tuesday's win over Manhattan. The transfer from Tennessee had 22 points and 10 rebounds despite spotting six inches to 7-foot Wildcats center Willie Cauley-Stein.
Kentucky was far too big and much too deep for Hampton (17-18). The Wildcats flexed their advantages toward the end of the first half, building a 41-22 lead, then opened the second with a 16-4 spurt.
"We didn't know that perfection was going to be the way to garner the big goal," said Karl-Anthony Towns, who led the Wildcats with 21 points and 11 rebounds. "It just comes with doing well on the court. The biggest thing for us is take it game by game. We're not worried about individual stats. We're worried about team play and what we can accomplish together."
Backed by a raucous crowd and an ambition for history, there was no chance that Kentucky was going to begin the tournament complacently. Said Cauley-Stein, "You've got to take it possession by possession and enjoy every minute of it because it's fun. The longer you last, the more fun it gets."
Fun was not a word often used to describe a plodding season nationally. There is talk of adopting a 30-second clock (being used experimentally in the NIT) to promote offense.
For now, the great drama is figuring out how to hang with Kentucky, which got 14 points from Andrew Harrison.
"I'm the wrong guy to ask. We scored seven in a half [against them],'' said UCLA coach Steve Alford, whose team advanced with a win over SMU in the South Regional here Thursday and lost to Kentucky, 83-44, during the season. "I'm surprised anybody got within 30 of them."