By JEFFREY McMURRAY
Associated Press Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Preston LeMaster was nailing 3-pointers.
Jared Carter was blocking shots. Even Adam Williams saw action.
Who are these guys? Certainly not the familiar names Kentucky
coach Tubby Smith had inserted into his lineup most of the year,
and with the Southeastern Conference's three top teams looming,
they probably won't see much floor time again.
But Kentucky needed more than a win Wednesday night. It needed a
dominant one - on its own terms, using whatever lineup it chose,
beating its opponent not just on the scoreboard but in virtually
every possible mathematical way.
It got that with an 80-40 blowout of Mississippi - the first
time the Wildcats had held an SEC opponent to 40 points or less
since Feb. 13, 1999, against South Carolina.
"We shot the ball well, played good defense and we felt good
about ourselves," forward Bobby Perry said.
The confidence appears to be back for Kentucky (18-9, 8-5),
which has weathered two three-game losing streaks this year and is
now in serious contention for an NCAA tournament bid.
But if another victory is required to make it in, the Wildcats
realize it won't be easy. Next up are the SEC's lone ranked teams -
No. 24 Louisiana State, No. 10 Tennessee and No. 12 Florida.
"We just want to keep taking care of business," guard Rajon
Rondo said. "We can't worry about what our record was. We just
have to keep playing hard."
Rondo had his best game since Smith relegated him to bench duty
last week as part of a new system that rewards starting jobs to
players who have the best practices. The athletic sophomore had a
career-high 12 assists - three short of a team record.
Two of them set up dunks by Joe Crawford, who led the team with
17 points. But it was LeMaster's 12 points - more than double his
previous career-high - that ignited the Wildcats early.
"He busts his tail every day in practice," Smith said of
LeMaster, who saw significant playing time because reserve guard
Ramel Bradley was sidelined with a broken hand, hit his first four
3-pointers of the game, including two that were part of an early
"Four years of hard work and dedication is finally paying
off," LeMaster said.
Smith emptied his bench. Fourteen Wildcats saw playing time, and
only Williams failed to score.
"We got everybody involved and everybody a chance to play,"
Smith said. "It should be a happy group of guys."
Last week, Smith shook up the team by announcing every starting
job was up for grabs. Among the five who grabbed them were guards
Brandon Stockton and Ravi Moss, who had seen little playing time
It's unclear whether they'll stay in the lineup as Kentucky
finishes its season against the SEC's big boys, but Stockton said
the team understands now what must be done.
"It's all about execution at this point," he said. "It's
about making sure you take open shots and good shots and play hard