"I was not overly confident we would be able to do that," Ford said. "It's something we had to do to be in the game and we did a good job going after the ball."
Eastern also succeeded in taking guard Patrick Sparks, UK's second leading scorer, out of the game. He did not take a shot in the first half and finished the game 0-for-2 from the field. He failed to score for only the second time this year -- the first was a December win over William & Mary.
His first shot was an air ball early in the second half. Eastern guard Jason McLeish wouldn't let Sparks get free for any open looks and Sparks was unable to free himself for shots when he did get the ball.
While Ford considers McLeish one of the nation's premier defenders, Kentucky certainly will see bigger, quicker and stronger guards if it dares to still dream of making the Final Four.
Of course, if Eastern had been able to make a few more shots, Kentucky might be finished now. The Colonels were a respectable 44.1 percent (26-for-59) from the field and were 6-for-18 from 3-point range. However, those are about average numbers for Ford's team, not anywhere near the spectacular numbers he thought they would need to have a chance against Kentucky.
Perhaps being diplomatic, Ford says Cats have chance at Final Four
Ford was perhaps being a bit diplomatic after the game when he said he thought UK could still make the Final Four. Or maybe he was just remembering his Big Blue roots as he was before the game when he applauded along with the Kentucky fans when the Wildcats were being introduced.
"Kentucky has a chance to make it," Ford said. "You've got to have a little luck. If they make shots, they are a dangerous team. If they go to the free throw line and make shots, because they will get fouled, they could be there.
"Obviously, Sparks is a big part. If Patrick plays well, Kentucky plays well. Obviously, he's got to play well. Rebounding, they will be fine because they are so physical."
Kentucky did get 42 points in the paint today. They got 25 more off 17 Eastern turnovers. However, UK also got just four fast-break points and was only 2-for-11 from 3-point range with Sparks being taken out of the game.
The Wildcats also failed to deliver a knockout punch when they had the chance. Kentucky let a 35-20 lead late in the first half shrink to 40-32 at halftime. It let a 52-36 lead midway of the second half drop to five points three times in the final four minutes.
"We can't forget what we did to get up on teams. We can't quit playing just because we have the lead," UK's Kelenna Azubuike, who had 16 points and six rebounds, said. "We've got to learn to sharpen up and play even better when we get the lead."
Struggles began with loss at Florida
Kentucky senior Chuck Hayes, who had nine rebounds to go with his 16 points, said UK's slide started with a loss at Florida to end the regular season.
"We have been struggling since then," Hayes said. "We've got two days to put this behind us and get better. We can't let this happen again."
Kentucky players were almost as despondent as if they had lost. The knew they had not played like a team intent on winning the national championship should have.
"They don't need to be excited," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "They know they didn't play up to their potential. They shouldn't be laughing and joking. Eastern Kentucky took it to us."
How could that happen? Shouldn't Kentucky be the team dictating play against an opponent like Eastern?
"We've got to make teams match out intensity, not the other way around," Perry said. "We have to set the tone from the start. If we don't, then we're not going to play much longer."
* Kentucky won a first-round NCAA Tournament game for the 15th straight year.
* Kentucky's two 3-pointers tied its season low (against Georgia State Nov. 26 and Florida March 13). The 11 attempts from 3-point range were a season low.
* Kelenna Azubuike scored in double figures for the 24th time this season. Chuck Hayes reached double figures for the 20th time.
* Rajon Rondo had five steals to give him 80 for the season, one more than the previous school record held by Wayne Turner. It was his fifth game with five or more steals this season.
* Ravi Moss played a career-high 20 minutes and had six points. Lukasz Obrzut scored a season-high five points in five minutes.