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November 26, 2011It took Matt Roark to get Kentucky going on Saturday.
That's the Kentucky basketball team, of course.
The Wildcat wide receiver-turned-quarterback - fresh off leading UK to its first football victory against Tennessee in 26 years - turned up at Rupp Arena on Saturday night and brought a roar from the crowd when he was introduced during a second-half timeout.
Coincidentally or not, the basketball Cats reeled off a 20-5 run to blow open what turned into an 87-63 pummeling of the Pilots.
The Roark Effect helped No. 2 Kentucky (6-0) finish off Portland. But the Wildcats got off to what's become a characteristically slow start.
"(UK coach John Calipari) always tells us to come out and go out with a lot of intensity, but it seems never to happen, and no one knows why," said forward Anthony Davis, who had 13 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. "But we've got to take blame for that. He really prepares us for the game, and (if) we come out there and don't play with a lot of energy, it's all on us."
Terrence Jones, who finished with 19 points and four rebounds, scored on a post up on UK's first possession, but the Cats went scoreless on their next three. The Cats trailed 7-6 with four minutes into the game.
"Well, we can't start games like that," Calipari said. "You've got to come out of the gate with some aggression and you've got to go at that rim and get fouled."
UK took its first double-digit lead with 5:26 to play in the first half, but Portland pulled within eight points late in the first half and within six early in the second.
That was before the streak that broke the game open, a stretch that included back-to-back dunks, the first by Davis and the second a thunderous two-hander by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who stole the ball on the press, hammered home a slam and drew a foul.
"We had that stretch in the second half and it was really, really good," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I think we're going to be good in the long run. We're just so young. We're still just learning this game."
That includes learning the intensity it takes to play early.
"Coming out of high school, (UK's young players) didn't see competition every single day," said senior Darius Miller, who had 19 points Saturday. "They could coast and score 40 points. It's kind of tough to make that transition, especially when you're pushed as hard as Coach Cal's pushing you, because he wants a perfect game every game. And he'll tell you that."
He's not getting it yet, but Davis shrugged off the suggestion that slow starts could come back to bite Kentucky against better competition.
"I would say no, because we really lock down defensively," Davis said. "If we just keep playing defense like we are, then we should be OK."
Calipari isn't so sure. After saying his team has " a ways to go," he suggested he might change up his lineup, noting that Kidd-Gilchrist came to him and volunteered to go to the bench if Calipari preferred to start Miller.
"What you see right now, you'd say 'Why isn't (Miller) starting?'" Calipari said. "I mean, and maybe he should be, and that's why we've got three days (before Thursday's game against St. John's) to keep looking at it and see."
Calipari also plans to take a look at his team's sluggish start on Saturday to see if he can find a pattern. Kentucky also started slowly against Kansas, Old Dominion and Radford.
"I know it'll get better with experience," Miller said. "We had this trouble last year, not putting together 40 minutes, then by the end of the year we were playing very good games. I know Coach Cal's going to get it right, I have faith our team's going to get it right, so I'm not really worried about it."