BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Rick Pitino says he wants his Kentucky '' Wildcats to play defense as if they haven't eaten in two weeks, and last night they went on a feeding frenzy.
Pressure defense and a seemingly endless bench inspired Kentucky's 97-73 drubbing of overmatched Arizona State in a Southeast Regional semifinal at Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
The victory sends the top-seeded Wildcats, 28-4 and winners of 11 in a row, against second-seeded North Carolina in tomorrow's regional final. The marquee matchup features college basketball's winningest programs -- Carolina with 1,624 wins and Kentucky with 1,615.
The loss finished Arizona State's season at 24-9, exposing the Sun Devils as pretenders in a region with three former national champions.
Kentucky cashed in 28 points on 20 Arizona State turnovers, and held the Sun Devils to 39.7 percent shooting.
"They're very big, they're strong, they're deep," said Arizona State coach Bill Frieder. "That can wear you down."
Tony Delk led the Wildcats with 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting. Rodrick Rhodes added 16 points and Andre Riddick 15, as Kentucky shot 55.9 percent. The Wildcats amassed 27 assists on 38 field goals.
In three NCAA tournament games, the Wildcats have won by 46, 22 and 24 points.
"Every time we had a breakdown or a mistake, they made us pay for it," Frieder said. "We gave them a lot of easy baskets because we were trying to press."
Said Pitino: "We played a great game tonight. We had tremendous respect for Arizona State. We pressed very little, but when we did, we pressed effectively."
On meeting North Carolina, he said: "North Carolina is the best shooting team in the country. We've got to be ready for that type of shooting."
Kentucky turned on the heat in the first half, getting 17 points on 11 Arizona State turnovers. Compounding the problem, the Sun Devils shot just 38.7 percent to Kentucky's 51.5.
As it was, Arizona State was fortunate to trail by only 42-34. But whatever hope the Sun Devils held about a comeback was quickly dispelled in the opening minutes of the second half.
A 12-0 Kentucky run opened a 20-point lead. On their first four possessions of the second half, the Sun Devils either got only one shot -- and missed -- or turned the ball over. Kentucky, on the other end, was able to convert points every time. When Delk missed a pair of three-point shots, he followed his misses with a dunk to make it 54-34.