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Kentucky shrugs off loss, blasts Valparaiso

By
Darrell Bird, The Sports Xchange

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- No. 6 Kentucky got back on the winning trail Wednesday night with a 87-63 rout of Valparaiso at Rupp Arena.

The Wildcats (8-1) lost their No. 1 ranking with an upset loss to UCLA on Saturday. Valparaiso saw its five-game winning streak end Wednesday.

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"All we talked about was energy. I worked for two days on our team," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "If someone didn't play, I subbed them. You're out. You're either playing like there's no tomorrow, and that doesn't mean foul and go nuts, it means you play with unbelievable energy or you're out. I'm playing somebody else."

Bam Adebayo was the top scorer for the Wildcats, finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds. Malik Monk had 15 points, Derek Willis 12 and Isaiah Briscoe 10.

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The top storyline heading into the game was how Kentucky would handle Valparaiso's Alec Peters, a 6-foot-9 senior forward who averages 25 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. With a host of NBA scouts inside Rupp Arena, Peters finished with 23 points and eight rebounds. He left the game for a bit in the second half with a leg injury but returned.

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"With Peters, it was hard because he still got 23, and he had seven at the half," Calipari said. "The minute you let up, the minute we backed up, he scored. He's that good."

Tevonn Walker and Shane Hammink added eight points apiece for the Crusaders (7-2).

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Kentucky blew open the game early with a 21-0 run to snap a 4-4 tie. Monk had eight points, De'Aaron Fox added six, Briscoe scored four and Dominique Hawkins had three as the Wildcats went up 25-4 with 9:42 left in the first half. All 21 points were scored by Kentucky guards.

Valparaiso went scoreless for 8:08 during that stretch and had made only 2 of 17 shots through the game at that point.

"Twenty-one (consecutive Kentucky) points? It felt like every bit of it," Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. "They got us uncomfortable. They sped us up, and I thought we took a lot of quick shots that were a little uncharacteristic of us."

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By the end of the first half, Kentucky led 45-24. Monk was tops with 10 points in 10 minutes. Briscoe had nine, and Adebayo had seven, and Fox had six points to go with five rebounds. Kentucky shot 47.4 percent as a team before the break.

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Valparaiso shot only 27.6 percent in the first half (8 of 29) and recorded only two assists. Peters was the top scorer with seven.

Kentucky coasted in the second half, allowing the lead to shrink to no fewer than 18 points at 48-30 with 17:32 to go. Kentucky subsequently made seven consecutive field goals, three from 3-point range, to go on an 18-4 run and build its largest lead to that point, 66-34, with 11:48 to play.

For the game, Kentucky shot 45.8 percent while Valparaiso finished at 34.3 percent.

"We knew it was going to be challenging to score, but I'm proud of the way we responded," Lottich said. "I think there was times when we could have rolled over and died, but we fought till the end."

For Kentucky, the win puts the Wildcats back on track before four consecuive games away from Rupp Arena.

"There were signs today that we could be really good," Calipari said. "Then the question is, how good do we want to be? Do you want to come and practice and get better? I mean, this is hard for these kids. They have never in their lives practiced this way. They were never in the gym every day with players this good, going against each other, every day."

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NOTES: Kentucky's 42-game home winning streak ended Saturday with the defeat against UCLA ... The Wildcats are now 35-7 under coach John Calipari in games following a loss. ... Kentucky faces Hofstra on Sunday at the Barclays Center in New York. ... Valparaiso plays at Missouri State on Saturday.

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