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Kentucky wins 2,000th game, makes NCAA history Monday

Photo by Ed Reinke

Photo by Ed Reinke

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- John Calipari didn't spend a lot time telling his players about Kentucky's bid to become the first team in NCAA history to reach 2,000 wins.

Turns out, he didn't have to.

The third-ranked Wildcats might be young, but they know a party -- and a chance to make history -- when they see it. And given an opportunity to do both on Monday night against Drexel, they didn't waste it.

DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson scored 18 points each and freshman star John Wall had 16 points and seven assists as Kentucky routed the Dragons 88-44 to reach the 2,000-victory plateau and set off the kind of celebration the Wildcats hope they can duplicate in March.

"This is the top for me," freshman center Daniel Orton said. "Nobody really talked about (winning 2,000), we all just had a lot of fun."

There was plenty to be had, particularly on a night when the Wildcats honored their past while providing a glimpse at a very bright future.

Former star Jamal Mashburn spoke to the Wildcats before the game, and former coach Joe B. Hall addressed the 24,354 at Rupp Arena afterward as Kentucky (12-0) celebrated the milestone in style.

Confetti rained down while players donned T-shirts commemorating the occasion and a group of students painted the number on their bodies.

It's the kind of raucous atmosphere usually reserved for trips to the Final Four. And with history out of the way, the Wildcats are only too ready to move forward.

"The focus all starts now," forward Ramon Harris said.

Maybe, but the Wildcats used the win as a chance to pay homage to its rich tradition, one Calipari knew was important.

"We weren't a part of many of those 2,000 wins (but) we had a job to do and that was drag us across the line before that other blue team got there," Calipari said, referring to North Carolina as he stood on the confetti-strewn floor at Rupp Arena. "This is a special moment for this program and this state."

The future looks pretty bright, too.

Kentucky improved to 2,000-635-1 in 107 seasons, just ahead of North Carolina's 1,992 victories. Kansas is third with 1,980.

"From the beginning to the end, getting to 2,000 wins proves that Kentucky has been the strongest college basketball program," former Kentucky star Dan Issel said.

The Wildcats entered the record books in style. Cousins and Wall took control early and Kentucky pulled away with the kind of dazzling play that should give it a pretty good head start over the Tar Heels on the race to 3,000.

The Wildcats shot 53 percent, outrebounded the Dragons 45-22 and could have won even more emphatically if Calipari hadn't started substituting liberally with about seven minutes left.

"That's as good as we've played together," Calipari said. "We hit a couple of shots early and kept going."

Samme Givens led Drexel (6-6) with 11 points, but the Dragons shot just 31 percent from the field and spent most of the game as invited guests to Kentucky's celebration.

It was a party more than 106 years in the making.

The first win was an 11-10 squeaker over the Lexington YMCA on Feb. 18, 1903.

The program needed 66 years to reach 1,000 victories. Students celebrated the milestone with cake alongside legendary coach Adolph Rupp at Memorial Coliseum in 1969.

This party was a little bigger.

Streamers showered the court moments after the final buzzer while players donned black T-shirts commemorating the occasion.

"I saw stuff flying, we were just trying to enjoy ourselves," forward Josh Harrellson said. "The crowd was going wild. They kept getting louder and louder."

Maybe it was out of relief more than anything.

Though the Wildcats needed just 40 years to go from 1,000 to 2,000 -- an average of 25 wins a year -- getting to 2,000 first wasn't exactly a sure thing.

Though the last four decades have included three national titles and seven Final Four appearances, it also has featured a couple of ugly episodes. Kentucky narrowly avoided the death penalty following a recruiting scandal involving former coach Eddie Sutton in the late 1980s.

Rick Pitino revived the program during the 1990s, and for the last few years Kentucky's march toward becoming the first school to 2,000 seemed inevitable.

But the lead over North Carolina has eroded over the last few years, particularly during Billy Gillispie's tumultuous tenure. The Tar Heels shaved 30 games off Kentucky's lead in the last two seasons and began the year just four games back.

Suddenly the marathon had turned into a sprint.

Calipari admitted the math was difficult. He wasn't sure his talented but largely inexperienced Wildcats could get to 2,000 before the Tar Heels.

Wall and company did their best to ease his mind.

Before a crowd that included Gov. Steve Beshear, Kentucky played with an urgency more befitting late-March.

The Wildcats needed less than four minutes to build a double-digit lead behind the kind of intensity that was lacking in a ho-hum win over Austin Peay on Saturday. The lead grew to 56-20 at the break, turning the second half into a kind of New Year's Eve countdown to the final buzzer.

"We can't play that bad against these guys," Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. "We were awful."