LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s 2,000th victory looked awfully familiar.
DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson scored 18 points apiece and the third-ranked Wildcats became the first team in NCAA history to reach the 2,000-win plateau with an 88-44 romp over Drexel on Monday night.
Kentucky improved to 2,000-635-1 in 107 seasons. North Carolina is next on the list with 1,992 wins while Kansas has 1,980.
"We weren’t a part of many of those 2,000 wins and we had a job to do and that was drag us across the line before that other blue team got there," coach John Calipari said. "This is a special moment for this program and this state."
The Wildcats did it in style, taking control early behind the play of Cousins, Patterson and superstar freshman John Wall to improve to 12-0.
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.
The first win was an 11-10 squeaker over the Lexington YMCA on Feb. 18, 1903.
It took Kentucky 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.
Confetti showered the court moments after the final buzzer while players donned black T-shirts commemorating the occasion.
The Wildcats needed just 40 years to reach the next millennium, a ride that included three national titles and a recruiting scandal under former coach Eddie Sutton.
The program was revived under Rick Pitino during the 1990s, and for the last few years Kentucky’s march toward 2,000 seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
The lead over North Carolina eroded in recent years, particularly during the tumultuous tenure of former coach Billy Gillispie. The Tar Heels had roared into Kentucky’s rearview mirror, shaving 30 games off the lead in the last two seasons.
Calipari has brought a renewed energy to the program, and while he had downplayed the significance of the milestone in recent weeks, he allowed on the eve of the game that reaching 2,000 before the Tar Heels and the Jayhawks was important because of the unusually strong bond between the program and state.
"People have a pride in their Commonwealth’s team and it means something to them," Calipari said.
And with Rupp Arena abuzz with a festive atmosphere more fitting for New Year’s Eve than an otherwise ho-hum late-December game against an overmatched opponent, the Wildcats didn’t disappoint.
Before a crowd that included Gov. Steve Beshear, former coach Joe B. Hall and program luminaries like Kenny Walker and Jamal Mashburn, Kentucky dominated from the opening tip.
Kentucky needed less than four minutes to build a double-digit lead, playing with the kind of crispness that was decidedly lacking in a ho-hum win over Austin Peay on Saturday.
The Wildcats shot 53 percent, outrebounded Drexel 45-22 and didn’t let up until the lead neared 50 midway through the second half.
With stars like Wall and Cousins in the fold — at least for a year — Kentucky should have a pretty decent head start over the Tar Heels on the race to 3,000.
Wall did a little bit of everything, finding Cousins for open baskets early as the Wildcats raced to a quick 15-3 lead, then showing his breathtaking ability in the open court as Kentucky pulled away.
He scored the last six points of the half, all on layups, all with a relatively high degree of difficulty, including one in which he wrapped the ball behind his back from his left hand to his right hand at full speed before putting it in off the glass.
The ebullient guard pointed toward the stands behind the basket after the ball splashed through the net, and the party was on.
The Wildcats led 56-20 at the break. When Patterson opened the second half with a 3-pointer, the crowd started holding up signs like "UK2K" and counting the minutes until the program’s spot in the history books was secure.