Kentucky, in its record 41st NCAA tourney, finally shook off inexperienced New Mexico State with a 21-0 run in the second half and went on to win 82-60 in a first-round game at the Midwest Regional on Friday night.
Heshimu Evans scored nine points during the game-breaking run.
"I thought he started with good defense, then his offense caught on. He started going to the hole and finding what he wanted," Kentucky senior Scott Padgett said of Evans.
"He got us going when we needed it," added Wayne Turner.
New Mexico State (23-10), which had no players with previous postseason experience, had trailed just 44-43 after Eric Channing's 3-pointer with 15:43 left.
Padgett, who along with Evans is among four Wildcats who have played in at least two national championship games, responded with a 3-pointer on the other end to start the decisive Kentucky run.
By time Evans scored on an inside basket with 8:52 left, Kentucky had a 65-43 lead. Evans also had a 3-pointer, two free throws and another inside spurt in the seven-minute outburst.
"It all comes down to experience and being there. The only one of us who has been there is the coach," New Mexico State's Billy Keys said.
Coach Lou Henson, in his second season back at his alma mater, has been to the NCAA tournament with New Mexico State, but that was 25 seasons ago. He went to 12 NCAAs in 21 years at Illinois.
The Wildcats, who shot 61 percent (30-of-49), advance to a second-round game Sunday against Kansas, the only team to win more games than Kentucky in the 1990s.
New Mexico State, which had won seven straight games, built an early five-point lead, but had to settle for a 34-34 halftime tie.
Channing's 3-pointer wathe third field goal of the second half for New Mexico State all 3-pointers. But the Aggies then missed 11 straight shots as Kentucky put the game away.
"They went off on us, then they threw the second team in and it got worse," said Charles Gosa, who led New Mexico State with 18 points. "I took it upon myself to try and stop Padgett from hitting 3s, but the bleeding would just come from somewhere else."
Evans finished with 15 points and Wayne Turner had 14 points in his 148th college game.
Turner, trying to become the first non-Duke player to play in four Final Fours, tied former Blue Demon Christian Laetnner for career NCAA games played.
Kentucky hit 14-of-24 first-half shots, but was tied 34-34 at halftime after Keys scored for New Mexico in the closing seconds.
New Mexico State led 11-6 after Brad Bestor's 3-pointer with 15:28 left following two short shots by Gosa, who had 14 of his 18 points by halftime.
Kentucky responded with six straight points and the margin remained close the rest of the half.
Channing, whose 15 points came on five 3-pointers, had consecutive treys right before Padgett's long jumper that started the decisive run.
"We weren't very successful in our man-to-man defense, but went to the zone in the second half and had some success," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. "We wanted to wear them down, that's why I kept putting fresh people in. We wanted to run and have fresh legs."
And by the end of the run, Smith was emptying his bench to get more players experienced in the postseason.
Kentucky ended the regular season with its most regular season losses since 1990 after losing four straight road games.
But the Wildcats have won four straight tournament games three in last weekend's Southeastern Conference tournament and the NCAA opener to extend their March record to 52-6 since 1992.
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