Friday, March 15, 2002
Wildcats buck upset trend
Intensity, shooting lift UK to rout
By Rusty Hampton
ST. LOUIS Welcome to Missouri, the Show Me state.
Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince drives past Valparaiso's Miguel Ali Berdiel.
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Welcome to the NCAA Tournament, where the University of Kentucky basketball team showed everyone it isn't dead yet.
The media. The fans. Even themselves.
Dismissed by many after a first-game loss in last week's Southeastern Conference Tournament compounded the dismay of the season, the Wildcats bounced back with solid efficiency Thursday, beating Valparaiso 83-68 in the opening game of the East Region.
Fourth-seeded UK (21-9) advanced to a second-round game Saturday against 12th-seeded Tulsa (27-6), which upset Marquette 71-69.
It's an intriguing matchup: UK's Tubby Smith against the team he used to coach.
Even more interesting, however, is the way the Cats kept their season alive by playing with a passion and intensity that has ebbed and flowed all season.
Team Turmoil? Try Team Tranquil.
Everybody was loose, having fun, said freshman forward Chuck Hayes.
Victims of poor shooting of late, the Cats shot just under 50 percent, continually finding soft spots in the Valpo zone. They outrebounded the Crusaders by eight, forced 19 turnovers, made nine steals, shot 76 percent from the line and had 17 assists their most in the last eight games.
Said Smith: I thought we played about as well as we've played in a long time.
It was the kind of performance Smith hoped a kinder, gentler approach would produce. But skeptics abounded. Valpo, which upset Mississippi in the first round of the 1998 tournament as a 13th-seed, was the trendy pick nationally to duplicate that feat.
Smith said he didn't pay attention to the banter, but the players said they couldn't help but hear it.
We've been struggling, so of course everybody would be saying this might be our last game, said UK's Gerald Fitch. But we came out and proved everybody wrong.
Getting upset in the first round (of the SEC Tournament) really upset us and made us want to go out and show something, said guard Keith Bogans. We've got a lot to show that we haven't shown all season.
Bogans put on a show, snapping a slump as he hit four of five 3-pointers and led four double-figure scorers with 21 points. He also had a team-best six rebounds, three assists and no turnovers.
Tayshaun Prince had 13 points, Marquis Estill scored 12 and Jules Camara added 11 for the Cats, who won their 12th consecutive NCAA Tournament opener.
UK bolted to a 20-11 lead midway through the first half, extended it to 18 by halftime and led by double figures the entire second half. A 13-2 run enabled Valpo to slice a 70-49 deficit to 72-62 with 2:02 to play, but the Cats put the game away by making 10 of 10 free throws over the final 1:27.
Center Raitis Graffs led the Crusaders (25-8) with 21 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
He did a wonderful job, said Valpo coach Homer Drew. He just needed more help.
Hounded by the long-armed Prince most of the game, Valpo scoring leader Lubos Barton was limited to 2-for-9 shooting and 10 points, five below his average. Barton's only first-half points came from the line. He didn't make his first field goal until the 15:48 mark, by which point UK already had taken control of the game.
I couldn't have done it without my teammates, said Prince, lauding the help he received when the Crusaders tried to free Barton with screens. ... I just wanted to put a hand up there and get in his face and I think I did a very good job of it.
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