Sunday, March 30, 2003

Marquette 83, Kentucky 69

Eagles abruptly end UK's hopes of national title; Wildcats ponder rare losing feeling

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kentucky's Gerald Fitch, left, stands dejected as Marquette's Dwyane Wade, 3, celebrates with teammates as he leaves the game in the final minutes.
(Gary Landers photos)
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Wade dunks over UK's Antwain Barbour, 33, left, and Chuck Hayes.
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Hayes, Barbour, and Jules Camara show their emotions late in their 83-69 loss to Marquette.
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MINNEAPOLIS - It was shocking and sudden, a two-hour time block gone in a blink. Like their season.

"It happened too quick," Kentucky's Cliff Hawkins said.

After a scorched-earth tour that lasted 92 days, as impressive a stretch as any in the program's storied 100 seasons, Kentucky came apart quickly and went quietly.

The nation's No. 1 team fell behind by 21 points in the first half Saturday and never recovered, falling to Marquette 83-69 in the Midwest Regional championship game in the Metrodome.

Then the Wildcats retreated to their locker room and stared holes into the floor.

How much did it hurt?

"Too much," said sophomore Chuck Hayes, who went scoreless.

"You don't want to believe it, like it wasn't supposed to end like this."

The Golden Eagles (27-5) advance to the Final Four for the first time since their 1977 national championship season. The loss ends UK's 26-game winning streak, tied for the third-longest in school history, and a bid for the Cats' first Final Four berth since 1998.

"It's real strange," said UK's Keith Bogans, whose career had just ended. "We haven't lost since, what, December? You get so used to winning . . . then you turn around and lose right now."

The Wildcats were victimized by a hot-shooting team and a superstar effort from Dwyane Wade, who had a triple-double of 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

"They had the best game they could have, and we had the worst game we could have," Hayes said.

Marquette shot 56.4 percent, second-best by a UK opponent this season, and buried 10 3-pointers. The Wildcats shot 39.1 percent, their lowest since their last loss - Dec. 28 to Louisville.

The Golden Eagles streaked to a 21-point lead in the first half - the largest deficit UK had faced all season - and never allowed the Wildcats to creep closer than 12 points thereafter.

"Give Marquette credit," UK junior Gerald Fitch said. "They outworked us. They beat us."

UK finishes 32-4. Though the team was ranked just 17th in preseason and 20th in early January, expectations had risen steadily ever since.

The Wildcats had talked before the NCAA Tournament of being satisfied with nothing less than a championship.

And now?

"Just cause we didn't end up in the Final Four, we still had a special year," Bogans said. "I wouldn't call this a disappointing season. To accomplish what we accomplished was special."

Included therein: becoming the second Southeastern Conference team to go unbeaten in league play since 1956, and the first team in 52 years to follow that up with the SEC Tournament title. Finishing No. 1 for the first time since 1978. Earning coach Tubby Smith everyone's national Coach of the Year vote.

"It's been a wonderful year for us," Smith said. "It was a great experience during our winning streak, and I am proud of our guys."

UK landed in trouble early on several fronts. Bogans was hampered by a high ankle sprain. Hayes, perhaps the player most capable of guarding Wade, drew three first-half fouls. UK senior Marquis Estill, who had his way through the two previous games, was being blanketed and couldn't contain Robert Jackson (24 points, 15 rebounds) on the other end.

With 11:36 left in the first half, UK actually had a 14-10 lead and the ball. But Marquette embarked on a stunning 35-10 run, as UK made just one of its next 13 shots.

Everything was going right for Marquette, including a loose ball that got batted to Steve Novak and then drained for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. To contrast: Fitch made a shot from three-quarters-court, but it was ruled just after the halftime buzzer.

UK had shot just 25.8 percent in the half and trailed by 19 points at intermission.

"Is it amazing we were winning the game by the margin we had?" Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "Yeah, no question."

UK went to the locker room down 45-26. It cut into the lead a few times, and its best chance came with it down 12 points with 10 minutes left.

UK's Antwain Barbour drove for a score and the whistle blew. If the foul had gone against Novak, Barbour would have been going for a 3-point play, but Barbour was called for a charge and the basket was disallowed.

"That kind of killed our momentum," Hawkins said.

Wade kept UK at bay, making all seven of his second-half shots for 18 points.

"We didn't have an answer for him," Smith said.

This offseason, the Wildcats will still be looking for answers.

"You go in thinking, 'We're going to do this, do that, win the game,' " Hayes said. "We never even thought of losing."

Team rebounds - 4.

Team rebounds - 1.


3-pointers - UK- 4-16 (Bogans 3-7, Carrier 1-2, Azubuike 0-1, Barbour 0-1, Hawkins 0-1, Stockton, 0-3). M- 10-19 (Novak 5-8, Wade 2-2, Diener 1-6, Townsend 1-2, Bradley 1-1) Technicals - none. Officials - David Hall, Scott Thornley, Karl Hess. Attendance - 28,383.

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