Thursday, February 27, 2003

Kentucky 80, Tennessee 68

Wildcats, outshot and outrebounded, win 17th straight

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEXINGTON - Kentucky no longer needs even a complete effort. Wednesday, it executed in fits and starts, getting enough out of its occasional brilliance to beat back another good team. Outshot and outrebounded by Tennessee, the second-ranked Wildcats nonetheless rolled to an 80-68 victory at Rupp Arena. They forced 18 turnovers and converted those into 24 points - 17 in the second half - and never let their lead get below six points in the final 16 minutes.

"We took their best shot and survived," UK coach Tubby Smith said.

"When our guys are threatened, they really respond the right way. When we're up against a wall and we're cornered, we come out like the Wildcats we're supposed to."

UK is now 23-3, 13-0 in the Southeastern Conference, and its record at this point in the season and its nation's-best 17-game winning streak are both high-water marks in the Smith era.

UT (15-9, 7-6 SEC) shot 58.7 percent Wednesday, the best this season by a UK opponent, and outrebounded UK 29-21. But the Wildcats continually got easy points in transition, thanks in part to eight steals.

"That's Kentucky basketball. That's what we do best," junior guard Gerald Fitch said of the points off turnovers.

"When you're shooting so well like they were, it's gotta mess with your mind to see why they weren't winning."

UT coach Buzz Peterson said as much.

"They just play great defense," he said of the Wildcats. "They are always in the passing lanes, and they make it hard to run an offense. We gave up so many points in transition, and that makes it hard to come back."

The Volunteers cut a 15-point UK lead to six points with eight minutes left. Then Jules Camara, the late-game hero of the first victory over UT, made back-to-back baskets to prevent the lead from shrinking below six points. Camara totaled 12 points and four rebounds off the bench.

UT would get no closer than 10 points in the final 31/2 minutes.

UK shot 48.1 percent but was more impressive at the free throw line, where it made 25 of 29 for 86.2 percent. It had 15 assists and just nine turnovers.

"We just attacked," senior guard Keith Bogans said. "We weren't being that physical in the first half, but then we started going inside and making shots or drawing fouls."

UT freshman point guard C.J. Watson, the SEC's assist leader, had six turnovers and didn't score until the final minute. Fellow starting guard Thaydeus Holden had just three points on 1-of-7 shooting.

"We wanted to get after them," UK junior guard Cliff Hawkins said. "When we put the press on, they wore down."

The key stretch was a 14-2 run early in the second half. UT scored on just one of 10 possessions in that span, going 0-for-7 with four turnovers.

Two plays that kick-started the run and defined the night:

After UT's Jon Higgins air-balled a 3-point try that would have tied the game, UK's Gerald Fitch whipped the ball upcourt for a fast-break basket by Erik Daniels.

Then Chuck Hayes leaped to steal a ball and, as he was falling out of bounds, passed it to Bogans. He converted that into another fast-break score, a Marquis Estill dunk.

Bogans led UK with 15 points, and the Wildcats had five double-figure scorers. Two of those - Camara and Hawkins (11 points) - are reserves. Ten times this season UK has had a double-figure scorer off the bench.

Ron Slay totaled 22 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Vols.

The Wildcats are one victory away from clinching a tie for first in the SEC East Division and for the overall regular-season league title, which would be the 42nd in school history.


UK Notebook: Estill's future uncertain

Team rebounds - 3.

Team rebounds - 1.

3-pointers - UT 6-16 (Slay 2-4, Holden 1-3, Watson 1-2, Higgins 1-6, Asumnu 1-1), UK 3-11 (Daniels 0-1, Estill 0-1, Fitch 1-3, Bogans 1-4, Hawkins 0-1, Carrier 1-1). Technicals - None. Officials - Boudreaux, Jones, Adams. Attendance - 23,078.

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