LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Anthony Davis had no idea just how close he was to a triple-double. It was just a dominating night for the Kentucky freshman.
Davis scored 15 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and had eight of a school-record 18 blocks in the top-ranked Wildcats’ 81-59 victory over St. John’s on Thursday night.
“He changed everything about the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “He blocked shots, he scored baskets, he rebounded tough rebounds, he came up with balls.”
Terrence Jones added 26 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (7-0), who head into a highly anticipated showdown with No. 5 North Carolina on Saturday on a high note after a stalwart defensive performance.
“We did our job on defense. They were kind of rattled,” Davis said. “When we lock down defensively, we’re a great defensive team. If we keep playing defense like we are right now, we’ll be fine.”
Davis blocked four shots before the first timeout, and Kentucky set the team record with Eloy Vargas’ swat with 2:42 to go. Davis finished one block short of tying the individual mark of nine set by Sam Bowie in 1981 and matched by Andre Riddick in 1993.
“It’s like shooting over a tower,” St. John’s guard Nurideen Lindsey said. “He was blocking shots all over the place. It was tough.”
God’sgift Achiuwa scored 18 points and Moe Harkless added 16 for the Red Storm (4-4) in St. John’s first appearance in Rupp Arena since the 1985 Final Four when it lost to then-No. 1 Georgetown.
This game was much different than the last time the Wildcats took over the No. 1 spot in coach John Calipari’s first year when they lost at South Carolina on Jan. 26, 2010.
Davis blocked his sixth shot early in the second half then finished an alley-oop on the other end from Marquis Teague that gave Kentucky a 42-27 lead with 16:26 left. He got his seventh a little over a minute later and his eighth with just over 12 minutes to go.
“If you block shots a couple of times, they want to shoot jump shots,” Davis said. “That’s what they did tonight.”
Kentucky kept extending its lead by holding St. John’s to 32 percent shooting, and the fans got a few final thrills when Doron Lamb threw an 18-foot alley-oop that Darius Miller slammed with one hand to make it 74-49 with 3:49 left.
“It just kind of happened. I don’t know what was going through my mind right there,” Miller said. “I haven’t seen the video yet. I’ll have to watch it when I get back home.”
Vargas tied, then broke the school record for blocks in a 48-second span to surpass the mark set against Morehead State on Nov. 20, 1997. Lamb finished with 16 points as Kentucky turns its attention to the Tar Heels.
“If we play like tonight? I’d be a very sad coach after the game,” said Calipari, who is 37-0 at home with Kentucky but continues to pick apart the lack of offensive rhythm and the mental lapses his team has made so far.
St. John’s was without coach Steve Lavin, who is recovering from prostate cancer surgery and has missed the Red Storm’s last three games. Assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who won two NCAA titles with Division II Metro State, paced up and down in the white tennis shoes Lavin and his staff wear.
“The disappointing part for us were the turnovers — 19,” Dunlap said. “When you on the road, you’ve got to take better care of the ball and that put a lot of pressure on our defense as far as easy baskets go.”
His team played well early, relying on Achiuwa and Harkless on both ends and each had 10 rebounds.
Kentucky didn’t make any changes to its starting lineup with senior sixth man Miller entering less than 3 minutes in as the Wildcats got off to a sluggish start. Harkless gave St. John’s a 2-0 lead, the biggest deficit that Kentucky had faced at Rupp Arena this season.
The Wildcats committed five early turnovers and started 2 of 11 from the field to trail 5-4 before a 12-0 run with Davis heavily involved on both ends of the floor.
Davis pestered St. John’s in the paint, used his quick hands to poke the ball away on the perimeter and simply jumped over the Red Storm for rebounds. In one early sequence, he grabbed an offensive rebound off Teague’s missed 3-pointer and kicked it to Miller behind the arc.
Miller missed another long shot, but Davis tapped in the miss with an athletic, one-handed rebound and putback. Jones made an even more athletic play with 3 seconds left in the half, getting around a block out attempt on a free throw by Teague with a powerful dunk that gave the Wildcats a 31-20 lead.
The defense did the rest from there.
“We feel like we can get better. I don’t think we’ve peaked as a defensive team,” Miller said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far and hopefully we continue to get better.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)