Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Carruth comes of age for Cats


Freshman rings up 19 on Dukies

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Tubby Smith wanted to look at his freshmen. That's what he said. On the eve of Tuesday's big date with No.1 Duke, the head basketball coach of the Kentucky Wildcats wanted to see if the kids could contribute.

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        He wouldn't save them for a less stressful game, and he wouldn't sacrifice their hardcourt education on the altar of immediate gratification. He refused to buy into the notion that a December college basketball game could mean more than an evening's entertainment.

        Plus, his freshmen are pretty good.

        Duke beat Kentucky 95-92 Tuesday night, but it took an overtime period and an extraordinary effort by Jason Williams to make it happen. Smith's consolation was that he had played the defending champions to a virtual draw without abandoning his long-term interests, and that his long-term interests include Rashaad Carruth.

Freshman shines
        Carruth is 19 years old, one year removed from the vaunted Virginia proving ground called Oak Hill Academy, and maybe one year away from stardom. The freshman shooting guard came off the bench to score 19 points Tuesday night — 14 of them during 11 dazzling first-half minutes — to help build a 12-point lead and set the stage for Williams' virtuoso finish.

        Williams scored a career-high 38 points Tuesday night, and was uncannily accurate down the stretch. He scored 17 of Duke's last 19 points in regulation, and made the three-point play that put the Blue Devils ahead for good in overtime. But while Williams' greatness is a given, Carruth's skill is a comparative secret.

        “I think they knew who I was,” Carruth said later. “I just haven't played enough minutes to know what kind of impact I'd have. But I could see them scrambling to to try and guard me.”

        Though the goateed guard was a McDonald's All-American, his work thus far this season had been spotty. Yet on this night, before ESPN's cameras and a sellout crowd, Carruth announced his presence with a streak shooting demonstration that suggested the Wildcats have more weapons than many supposed.

        “I'm not scared of nothing,” Carruth said. “It was my time to step up.”

        Carruth took six shots from the field before intermission. Five of them found the net. Four of them gave the Wildcats the lead. Carruth looked very much like the player Smith has described as the best three-point shooter he has ever coached.

        “This was probably the game I had an outbreak in,” Carruth said. “I knew I could do it all season. It was just a matter of getting playing time ... I felt real good. I've played in front of this many people and that didn't bother me. Just because it was Duke didn't bother me. We both put on our socks at the same time.”
       

Prime-time breakout
               Carruth was not the only UK freshman to log meaningful minutes Tuesday night. But he was the one who seized the spotlight. He had played in only three games for the Wildcats before Tuesday, his debut delayed by an ankle sprain. He played 12 minutes against VMI and nine apiece against North Carolina and Kentucky State.

        “He was waiting for a game like this,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “He's not waiting for Kentucky State.”

        Smith is waiting for March. He wanted to test his freshmen against Duke so that they might be more useful when it matters most. Rashaad Carruth is already plenty polished.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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