LEXINGTON, Ky. – For a moment Saturday night Kentucky freshman Doron Lamb considered trying to calm coach John Calipari after listening to him bark at officials even as the 17th-ranked Wildcats stroked a healthy 26-point lead over Mississippi Valley State late in the second half.
Then Lamb saw the skin on the back of Calipari's neck turn red and figured he might as well stay quiet.
"I knew he was going to get ejected, I could tell he wanted to, he was stepping out on the floor," Lamb said.
Referee Mike Stuart obliged by hitting Calipari with two quick technical fouls and sending him to an early exit, one of the few spirited moments during Kentucky's otherwise ho-hum 85-60 dismantling of the Delta Devils.
"That's his prerogative," Calipari said. "I coach the game. He has a whistle. If he wants to throw me out of a game, that's what is in his mind."
Calipari spent the last 6:26 in the locker room, where he said he took his coat off, propped his feet up, sipped a bottle of water and thought "this ain't so bad."
By then, the Wildcats (8-2) had things well under control.
Terrence Jones scored 15 of his 19 points and Doron Lamb and DeAndre Liggins scored 16 points each as Kentucky shook off a sleepy opening 10 minutes to post its fifth win by at least 20 points this season.
The Wildcats held the Delta Devils (1-9) to 33 percent shooting, forced 23 turnovers and were hardly challenged over the final 30 minutes.
"We played OK," said forward Darius Miller, who had 14 points and five assists. "It seemed like at times we weren't really focused or intense with the game. We still have to work on playing the whole 40 minutes."
The Wildcats didn't have to against the well-traveled Delta Devils, who entered the game having already faced Georgia, Butler, BYU, Mississippi and Arkansas.
Kentucky used a 24-4 run to close the first half to take control, highlighted by Brandon Knight's halfcourt heave at the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 44-24 lead at the break.
"It felt good and it looked on line," said Knight, who finished with 14 points.
D'Angelo Jackson led the Delta Devils with 17 points. Mississippi Valley coach Sean Woods, a member of "the Unforgettables" while playing at Kentucky under Rick Pitino in the early 1990s, received a warm welcome from the Rupp Arena faithful.
Woods wished he'd been able to schedule his homecoming earlier in the year. The youthful Wildcats are starting to play together following a difficult opening month that included games against Connecticut, North Carolina and Notre Dame.
"They weren't this good (a month ago)," Woods said. "They weren't gelling and weren't getting the dribble-drive. They were young and trying to figure it out."
Not so much anymore.
The Wildcats spent the last week splitting time between final exams and practice. The rustiness showed early, as Mississippi Valley hung around for the first 10 minutes behind some fearless shooting and somewhat disinterested Kentucky defense.
The Delta Devils tied the game at 20 on a little hook shot by Jason Holmes and appeared to have momentum with Jones on the bench in foul trouble.
Kentucky has struggled at times this year when Jones isn't on the floor, but not Saturday. Instead the Wildcats rode the hot hand of Lamb, who came off the bench to score on a variety of jumpers. He's embraced his role as sixth man, knowing it's his job to give the Wildcats a boost.
"I just wanted to come off the bench and get aggressive, play defense, make open shots and create for my teammates," he said.
Kentucky honored former coach Joe B. Hall during halftime. Hall lead the Wildcats to the 1978 national title before retiring following the 1985 season.
Dozens of former players, including Kenny Walker, Sam Bowie and Jack Givens, gathered at midcourt to pay tribute to Hall, who remains a fixture at Rupp Arena and co-hosts a popular sports talk show with former Louisville coach Denny Crum.
Hall is among the semifinalists for the 2011 class of the Basketball Hall of Fame, an honor Hall's players believe he deserves.
The group received a rousing ovation while walking off the floor, one of the loudest of the night until Calipari decided he wanted to express himself.
He received his first technical for apparently stepping out of the coaching box while arguing a foul call on center Eloy Vargas with 6:44 to play. Moments later, he was walking off to a standing ovation after earning a second technical for continuing to plead his case.
The exchange gave the Wildcats a quick burst of energy and they quickly finished off the Delta Devils with assistant John Robic working in place of Calipari.
It was the second ejection of Calipari's career. The first came while he coached Massachusetts in 1996. The Minutemen were 26-0 at the time when they were upset by George Washington.
The stakes weren't nearly as high this time, though his players took it as proof that he's always got their back no matter the circumstances.
"Coach is watching everything on the court no matter the time span or what the score is," Knight said. "He's going to be watching everything and reacting to everything, trying to get us better."
(This version CORRECTS the name of a former player in 23rd paragraph to Kenny Walker, instead of Kenny Smith.)