Saturday, March 13, 1999

KENTUCKY 82, NEW MEXICO ST. 60


Death of recruit jolts Wildcats

BY NEIL SCHMIDT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[evans]
Heshimu Evans celebrates a blocked shot.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        NEW ORLEANS — The Big Easy wasn't. Beginning defense of its 1998 national championship, third-seeded Kentucky struggled for 25 minutes before finally outrunning No.14 New Mexico State 82-60 Friday night at the Superdome.

        The victory was immediately rendered irrelevant, as the Wildcats learned after the game of the death of recruit John Stewart, a 7-foot center from Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence North who collapsed during an Indiana regional tournament game Friday in Columbus, Ind.

        “It puts a lot of things in perspective, how really meaningless something like a basketball game is when you lose a friend or family member,” UK senior Scott Padgett said.

        UK coaches learned of Stewart's death shortly before taking the court against New Mexico State and had to keep it to themselves until postgame. UK coach Tubby Smith choked up repeatedly when discussing Stewart in a postgame news conference. Senior Wayne Turner wrapped him in a bear hug when leaving the interview room.

[padgett]
Scott Padgett
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        The Wildcats broke down when Smith told them the news, for they had met and grown to like Stewart from his recruiting visits.

        “Life is so fragile,” Smith said. “This was a beautiful young man from a great family, who was so looking forward to joining the Kentucky family — which he is part of and always will be. The guys felt like he was already a part of the team.

        “I felt a real emptiness when I went on the court tonight.”

        UK will have to digest this bombshell before returning to play Sunday. And Sunday's a biggee: UK (26-8) vs. Kansas at 5 p.m. in the Superdome. The sixth-seeded Jayhawks (23-9) beat 11th seed Evansville 95-74 Friday.

        This will be the first NCAA Tournament meeting between UK and Kansas, which rank first and third, respectively, on the list of the nation's winningest teams. Kansas has the most victories this decade with 286, and UK ranks second with 280.

[turner]
Wayne Turner
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        For awhile Friday, it looked like UK might be in danger of its first first-round NCAA loss in 11 years. New Mexico State (23-10) kept the Wildcats in check and traded leads before UK assembled a 26-1 run midway through the second half.

        “We wore them down,” Smith said. “That's why we kept putting fresh people in the game.”

        The Wildcats shot a season-high 61.2 percent, including 64-percent shooting in the second half. They had four double-figure scorers: Heshimu Evans (15), Turner (14), Padgett (11) and Ryan Hogan (10).

        Turner played in his 148th game Friday night, tying the NCAA record for most games played held by Duke's Christian Laettner, and he will break the mark when he takes the court Sunday.

        The Aggies came out hot, and UK had no immediate answer for slippery 6-foot-9 forward Charles Gosa. He scored 14 first-half points on 7-of-11 shooting inside. And New Mexico State hit 7-of-15 three-point tries in the game's first 25 minutes.

        New Mexico State took its last lead at 37-36 on a Brad Bestor three-pointer, but Turner answered with a driving layup. After Padgett hit a three-pointer to begin an exchange of three-point volleys, UK then mustered its winning 21-0 rally.

        The Aggies went scoreless for 7:15, ending with a Billy Keys free throw, and wouldn't get their next basket for another 2 1/2 minutes.

        The Wildcats have had to deal with adversity before. Two years ago, top scorer Derek Anderson suffered a season-ending knee injury, but the Wildcats willed their way to the NCAA finals in his honor. Last year, then-senior Allen Edwards dealt with the death of his mother as the postseason began, and UK rallied to the NCAA title.

        “We've responded and played well when faced with adversity,” junior Jamaal Magloire said. “What we have to do is play for John and play for his family,”

        Back to Kansas: UK leads its series with the Jayhawks 18-3, though the teams have played just twice this decade. One of those meetings occurred this season, as UK beat Kansas 63-45 in the Great Eight Dec. 1 in Chicago. It was Kansas' lowest point total in coach Roy Williams' 10 years at the school.

        “We didn't play well in that first meeting,” Kansas freshman guard Jeff Boschee said. “But we've improved a lot since then.”

        UK is now 18-1 in the last four NCAA Tournaments.

        UK's victory helped it improve to 3-2 in the Superdome. It lost the 1993 national semifinals to Michigan 81-78 in overtime, and beat Florida and Arkansas in the 1996 Southeastern Conference Tournament before losing to Mississippi State in that tourney's finals.

Kentucky Stories
- KENTUCKY 82, NEW MEXICO ST. 60
UK NOTEBOOK
UK-Kansas will be first in NCAAs
Kansas shuts down high-powered Evansville
MARCH MADNESS PAGE


NEW MEXICO ST (60)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Gosa            36  9-17   0-0   4-6  0  2   18
Brodt           30   1-3   0-0   3-4  2  4    2
Keys            36  5-12   3-4   0-3  4  3   14
Bestor          28  3-11   0-0   0-2  0  1    9
Channing        35  5-10   0-0   1-2  1  2   15
Davis            3   0-0   0-0   0-0  1  1    0
Karam            1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Nanez            1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
Williams         1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Moore            1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Noopilia         1   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Hines           12   0-2   0-0   1-4  0  3    0
Norvell         15   0-3   2-4   2-2  2  0    2
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 23-59   5-8 11-23 10 17   60
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.390, FT-.625. 3-Point Goals: 9-30, .300 (Gosa 0-2, Keys 1-7, Bestor 3-10, Channing 5-9, Noopilia 0-1, Hines 0-1). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 2 (Brodt 2). Turnovers: 12 (Brodt 3, Gosa 3, Keys 3, Bestor, Norvell). Steals: 8 (Keys 4, Bestor, Channing, Gosa, Hines).

KENTUCKY (82) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Evans 26 5-8 4-5 1-6 1 2 15 Padgett 27 4-5 0-0 0-1 3 3 11 Bradley 25 2-6 3-6 1-3 2 1 7 Turner 28 6-7 2-2 0-3 6 1 14 Allison 23 2-3 1-1 0-2 2 0 6 Blevins 3 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 3 Masiello 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Smith 9 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0 Tackett 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Prince 17 2-4 0-0 1-1 2 1 4 Hogan 13 3-5 2-2 3-4 1 1 10 Camara 13 3-4 1-1 2-5 1 0 7 Magloire 14 2-4 1-2 2-5 1 1 5 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 30-49 14-19 10-30 19 11 82 _______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.612, FT-.737. 3-Point Goals: 8-14, .571 (Evans 1-1, Padgett 3-4, Allison 1-1, Blevins 1-2, Tackett 0-1, Prince 0-2, Hogan 2-3). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 5 (Allison 2, Magloire 2, Camara). Turnovers: 14 (Camara 3, Smith 3, Bradley 2, Prince 2, Turner 2, Evans, Magloire). Steals: 6 (Evans 2, Padgett 2, Allison, Smith). __________________________________ New Mexico St 34 26 - 60 Kentucky 34 48 - 82 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 14,051. Officials: Jody Silvester, Robert Adams.