CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The ballyhooed confrontation between All-Americans Jamal Mashburn and Rodney Rogers was strictly a washout last night.
Mashburn and his Kentucky teammates decked Rogers and Wake Forest with a never-knew-what-hit-them blitz and galloped away from the Deacons, 103-69, last night at the Charlotte Coliseum in the NCAA Southeast Regional semifinals.
The knockout came before the fight had begun with the top-seeded Wildcats blowing out to a 60-26 halftime advantage. Rogers was in foul trouble with four personals a minute into the second half, but it hardly mattered after Wake Forest (21-9) was rationed to 15 first-half shots and committed 12 turnovers.
Meanwhile, Kentucky was blistering the nets. The Wildcats hit their first eight three-point shots and finished the half 12 of 15 from beyond the arc. Mashburn hit five of five three-pointers in the first half and guard Travis Ford was perfect on four. It seemed as if they were being guarded by invisible men as Kentucky ran a sharp offense and accented it with a swarming defense that set up everything else.
"The way Kentucky played in the first half, I can't see anybody in the country beating them," said Deacons guard Randolph Childress.
"Sometimes, we had guys right in their face and they were still sticking the three-pointers," said Rogers. "They played well."
In the first half, Kentucky (29-3) was 22 of 33 from the field, had 11 assists and a 15-7 rebounding edge against the stunned Deacons.
"Sometimes, you're just at the mercy of the basketball gods," said Deacons coach Dave Odom.
The rest of the game was a mere formality for the Wildcats. After accumulating 23 first-half points, Mashburn didn't look too seriously for shots in the second half, taking only two.
Ford, who finished with 26 points on 10 of 11 shooting, is the Wildcats' most valuable player, said Mashburn.
"I knew the matchup [with Rogers] wasn't going to materialize," said Mashburn. "A lot of people don't respect Travis, but he's our MVP. He's got my vote."
It was the third straight impressive tournament victory by the Wildcats.
"When we get up on a team, we've gone for the jugular," said Ford. "We keep on burying them. That has been impressive."
Kentucky is appearing in its 34th NCAA tournament, more than any other school. The victory was its 59th in NCAA play. Five national titles have come along the way.
Despite the romp, Wildcats coach Rick Pitino was surprised.
"I really thought this was going to be a white-knuckler," said Pitino. "This caught us totally off guard.
"I think we have high self-esteem among all the players, no fear of failure. We're very, very much at ease."
Earlier, the Wildcats toyed with Rider, 96-52, and routed Utah, 83-62, en route to their current nine-game winning streak.
There is no Duke in their path this time. They were denied a Final Four appearance by Christian Laettner's miracle shot, 104-103, in Philadelphia in perhaps the best NCAA tournament game ever last March.
For the Deacons, it was another bitter disappointment on the court where they have been ousted in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament four straight times.
Their physical strength -- considered their big advantage -- was never a factor as they fell to 0-3 lifetime against Kentucky.
It was almost like a home game for the legions of Kentucky fans who waved their blue and white proudly during this Deacon demolition derby.