Sunday, February 9, 2003

UK forces Rebels into many misses

Dominating performances will move Wildcats higher in polls

By Ralph D. Russo
The Associated Press

Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith doesn't have much to complain about lately.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
OXFORD, Miss. - If the pollsters are looking for a new No. 1 next week, they might want to consider No. 6 Kentucky.

Erik Daniels scored 20 points on 10-for-12 shooting and Kentucky, playing its 1,000th Southeastern Conference game, overwhelmed Mississippi 80-62 Saturday for its 12th straight victory.

Keith Bogans added 17 points and Gerald Fitch 14 for coach Tubby Smith, who won his 150th game in five-plus seasons at Kentucky.

Kentucky (18-3, 8-0) has its longest winning streak since winning 13 in 1998.

And the Wildcats are drawing rave reviews from the competition.

After watching Kentucky blow out No. 1 Florida earlier in the week, Georgia coach Jim Harrick said the Wildcats reminded him of the great UNLV teams of the early 1990s.

Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes called them the best team the SEC has seen in the last two or three years.

Will all the accolades work against the Wildcats?

"I don't think it will give us a big head," Fitch said. "It can feed our confidence. As long as we don't get cocky with it."

Justin Reed scored 14 points and David Sanders had 13 for the Rebels (12-8, 3-6), who have lost four straight and three SEC home games in a season for the first time since 2000.

Ole Miss had won two of the last three against Kentucky in Oxford. But the Wildcats took the Tad Smith Coliseum crowd out of the game from the start.

The Wildcats scored the first 11 points and never looked back. In fact, it looked like a continuation of their last game, when they routed Florida in Lexington.

"After a big game, we were kind of worried how well we'd respond," said Chuck Hayes, who scored 12 points and had five assists. "But we prepared well."

Kentucky's stifling defense allowed Ole Miss to get off only six shots in the first eight minutes. The Rebels were held scoreless for more than four minutes, and six minutes in they had their top two scorers - Aaron Harper and Reed - on the bench with two fouls each.

"They came out on us so good defensively in the first half, and we got in a hole," Sanders said.

Barnes said, "We were outmatched and they were too tough inside."

Offensively, the Wildcats executed flawlessly against whatever Ole Miss tried.

Two precise backdoor cuts against the Ole Miss man-to-man led to easy layups by Fitch and Daniels at the end of the 11-0 run.

When the Rebels went zone, Kentucky hit the boards for extra shots, including a putback by Daniels to make it 23-11.

Ole Miss managed to cut the lead to nine when Harper's 3-pointer made it 23-14. But the Rebels would go nearly four minutes before scoring again.

Meanwhile, Kentucky was putting up points every way possible.

There was a pretty touch pass from Daniels to Marquis Estill for a dunk. That was followed by a steal by Bogans, who made a short bank shot.

The Wildcats finished off the masterful half by showing off their long-range game. Fitch dropped in a 3 and Bogans hit two to complete a 21-6 run.

"We have a lot of guys that can beat you," Fitch said. "It makes us a tough matchup."

The final first-half numbers told the story. The Wildcats led 44-20, shot 63 percent and held Ole Miss to 26 percent.

The second half was more of the same - a jump hook by Jules Camara, a 3 from the corner by Fitch, another from the same corner by Hayes, and then a driving layup by Daniels to complete a pretty give-and-go with Hayes.

Before clearing the bench with 1:54 left, Kentucky scored on 10 straight possessions. The Wildcats lead never dipped below 17 in the second half.

As far as getting to No. 1, that's not the Wildcats' concern.

"We'll just have to see," Camara said. "We're playing real well right now."

That's an understatement.

Team rebounds - 1.

Team rebounds - 3.

3-pointers - UK 6-21 (Hayes 1-2, Fitch 2-5, Bogans 3-8, Stockton 0-1, Carrier 0-1, Azubuike 0-1, Barbour 0-3), M 5-15 (Harper 2-8, Reed 0-1, Pearson 1-1, Sanders 1-2, Holtz 1-2, Loe 0-1). Technicals - None. Officials - N/A. Attendance - 8,878.

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