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December 1, 2011

Davis has 8 of UK's school-record 18 blocks in win

When Anthony Davis was a kid, his AAU basketball coach told him that if a player went in the lane and scored against you, he "went in your mom's house."

All these years later, it's still stuck in the Kentucky freshman's head.

"I just try to keep that (mentality), like, 'No one's going in my mom's house,'" Davis said Thursday night.

Mom's house was safe Thursday night. So was Kentucky's No. 1 national ranking. Davis saw to that, swatting eight shots to go along with 15 points and 15 rebounds in the Wildcats' 81-59 rout of St. John's at Rupp Arena.

Davis' career-high blocked-shot night was part of a record-setting performance by UK (7-0), which blocked a school-record 18 shots. St. John's (4-4) made 19 field goals.

Terrence Jones, who led UK with 26 points, had four blocks. Backup center Eloy Vargas had two.

But Davis put on a shot-blocking show, turning back five shots in the first half and four in the second.

"It's like shooting over a tower," St. John's guard Nurideen Lindsey said. "I have watched him play a lot this season, but I didn't know he was as long as he is and as athletic as he is until he caught a couple of the dunks and a couple of the lob plays. He was blocking shots all over the place. It was tough."

Davis finished two swats shy of the second triple-double in Kentucky history. Chris Mills (19 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) recorded one on Dec. 27, 1988 against Austin Peay.

UK coach John Calipari said after the game he didn't know Davis was within swatting distance of a triple-double when he took the 6-foot-10 freshman out of the game with 4:44 to play.

"I probably would have told him to keep him in, but I didn't know that," senior Darius Miller said. "Not at the time."

Neither did Davis, who'd been told at halftime that he should chase a triple-double, but insisted afterward that it wasn't on his mind. Instead, he was focused on controlling the paint and forcing short-handed St. John's to shoot long shots.

The Cats held the Red Storm to 31.7 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers, turning those into 18 points.

That defensive effort made up for what Calipari called his team's "inept" offense.

Kentucky had 40 points in the paint and 18 second-chance points, but the Cats shot 40.6 percent (39.5 percent in the second half) and struggled to generate halfcourt offense.

"We are what we are," Calipari said. "We are a good defensive team and we cannot sustain the energy we need because it's so early in the season; we stopped playing a lot. And offensively, we just aren't in sync yet, and we have got to get it there."

Davis did his part, helping ignite UK's sometimes-stagnant offense with his defense.

On one second-half sequence, Davis blocked a shot at the defensive end, sprinted the length of the floor and caught a lob from point guard Marquis Teague for a two-handed dunk.

Turning blocked shots into transition opportunities is "most definitely" a conscious choice, Davis said.

"Blocking the ball out of bounds is giving them another chance," Davis said. "So you block it in to one of your teammates or tip it a little bit to yourself and we have possession of the ball. That's all I try to do, just keep it in our hands."

Unless, that is, Davis is spiking a shot as a help defender.

"When I come from the weak side, I try to block it out of bounds, try to send it all the way upstairs," Davis said. "It just excites the crowd and gets us pumped up as well."

"I'd like to take all the credit for that, how I teach," Calipari said. "But the reality of it is, that's him. He's just - you know, he's a great shot-blocker."

Davis can trace that back to those early AAU days - when his coach told him to protect his mom's house - and to his pre-growth-spurt career as a guard growing up in Chicago.

"People would block my shot and start screaming, 'Aaaah!'" Davis said. "I was like, 'Wait til I grow,' and I actually grew. So I try to do the same thing."

He did it on Thursday, almost to the tune of a triple-double.

Davis' toughest challenge, however, still is looming. The Cats host No. 5 North Carolina on Saturday in what might be the college basketball season's most-anticipated nonconference game.

So Davis didn't linger long on his just-missed triple-double. He was thinking about his next shot to protect the paint at his mother's house.

"If (the triple-double) happened, it happened," Davis said. "I kind of wanted it just to get more blocks, but I'll try again Saturday."


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