Saturday, March 23, 2002

UK run stopped by Terps

Wildcats unravel late as tumultuous season closes

By Rusty Hampton
The Courier-Journal

Maryland's Juan Dixon (3) goes to the basket as Kentucky's Marquis Estill (50) defends.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The squad once known as Team Turmoil didn't beat itself Friday night.

        Team Talented did — with perhaps a final assist down the stretch from the University of Kentucky.

        Using an array of weapons inside and out, mighty Maryland outlasted the Wildcats, 78-68 before 29,633 at the Carrier Dome, ending UK's season and sending the Terrapins into Sunday's NCAA East Region final against Connecticut.

        Guard Juan Dixon led Maryland with 19 points, but it was the balanced scoring over the final 10 minutes by a bevy of other Terps — combined with some sloppy play by the Cats — that UK couldn't overcome.

        After two free throws by Marquis Estill cut the lead to 66-63 with 5:05 remaining, the Cats scored just two more field goals — a layup by Chuck Hayes that made it 70-65 with 1:53 to play, and a 3-pointer by Cliff Hawkins in the final seconds with the outcome already decided.

        “I was impressed with their composure down the stretch and making their free throws,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “It's a sign of a poised, mature, veteran team.”

        During that decisive stretch, the Cats missed seven shots, turned it over three times and missed the front end of two one-and-one free throw opportunities. Even the Cats' go-to players, Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans, came up empty.

        “We didn't take advantage of opportunities,” Smith said. “We turned it over two or three times on fast breaks, and then you see our guys start to doubt themselves.”

        Bogans missed both free throws and the usually clutch Prince misfired on an open 3-pointer, inexplicably missed on a finger-roll in the lane and messed up a break when he fired a pass toward Bogans that was too hot to handle and sailed out of bounds.

        Prince, who was 19-for-35 from the field in the first two tournament games, was 6-for-16 against the Terrapins.

        “I had plenty of opportunities and didn't get it down,” he said. “They did a pretty good job of playing defense. Others double-teamed me more. They were straight up until I had the opportunity to shoot.”

        Prince scored 17 points in his final game for UK. Bogans added 15, Estill 12 and Jules Camara 10.

        In addition to Dixon's 19, the Terps got 16 from center Lonny Baxter, 15 from forward Chris Wilcox, 14 from guard Byron Mouton and eight off the bench from Drew Nicholas, including a 3-pointer that put them ahead to stay midway through the second half.

        It was a maddening — and perhaps fitting — ending for a season tainted by a player dismissal, injuries, suspensions and various other off-the-court antics that had Smith nearly weekly answering questions that had more to do with discipline than X's and O's.

        After a tumultuous regular season and disappointing early exit from the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the Cats had regrouped impressively for the NCAAs. Beating Valparaiso and Tulsa, the Nos.13 and 12 seeds, respectively, wasn't like knocking Duke or Kansas out early, but it was a sign that UK had righted its ship in time to make a run deep into the field.

        No school has made more NCAA Tournament appearances (43) or won more games (89) than UK. And although the Maryland was a six-point favorite and held an edge in nearly every statistical category, the Cats felt good about their chances for an upset.

        It didn't happen — and UK's bid for its first trip to the Regional finals since 1999 — was waylaid by many of the same things that disrupted the season: Poor shooting and inconsistent output from key players.

        UK finished with a 22-10 record, marking the first time in the history of the program that UK has lost at least 10 games in three years in a row.

        Maryland, which has lost just four times, claimed its school-record 29th victory. The Terps now play second-seeded Connecticut with their sights on a second straight trip to the Final Four.


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