Sunday, January 4, 2004

No. 8 Kentucky 61, No. 9 North Carolina 56

Daniels scores 14 of his 18 points after break to key Wildcats' rally

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEXINGTON - In the battle of bluebloods, it was Gerald Fitch's 24-footer that won it for Kentucky, but it was Erik Daniels' out-maneuvering of North Carolina big man Sean May that made everything else on the floor possible.

North Carolina's Melvin Scott is whacked across the face by Kentucky's Erik Daniels.
(AP photo)
Not bad for the Princeton High graduate who started the game sick to his stomach - his "drive" to the garbage can early in the first half might have been his most aggressive move of the day, in a day full of them - and he wound up with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

"I didn't feel bad before the game, but I guess I was just excited about playing a big game, once it started," Daniels said after the Wildcats' 61-56 victory over the Tar Heels Saturday at Rupp Arena.

It was the fourth straight victory for Kentucky (9-1) over North Carolina (8-2).

Daniels, a senior, came into the game averaging 14.4 points and 7.1 rebounds.

"We felt we could push the ball inside," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "Erik's a pretty smart player inside, pretty crafty. ... Sean May was caught 'wrong-side' a couple of times, and we were able to get the ball inside to Erik to take advantage of it."

One shot everybody at Rupp Arena - even UNC coach Roy Williams - was raving about Saturday was Fitch's 24-footer that made the score 60-56 with 23 seconds to go.

"(UK) got it out of bounds with 11 seconds on the shot clock, and we didn't get back to Fitch quickly enough after they set a nice screen for him," Williams said. "We had a 6-6 and a 6-8 guy running at him, but Fitch - the senior - is the guy you want shooting it."

Williams grabbed the 6-3 Fitch at game's end and said to him, "You'll remember that shot the rest of your life."

Fitch was one of two Wildcats for whom North Carolina had no answer. He led all scorers with 21 points, 15 of them on 3-pointers.

Overall, it was Daniels who gave the most impressive performance, however. Besides his double-double (his third of the season), he had two steals and an assist and played more minutes than anyone else (34:59).

Daniels' inside basket - with a Tar Heel hand pushing hard against the ball - to make it 47-44 with 10 minutes to play was huge.

"Coach had been saying we needed to be more aggressive in the post," Daniels said. "I wanted to use my strength there."

And his follow of his own missed shot to make it 57-53 with 5:35 to play was even bigger.

"I kind of saw it wasn't going to get in, so I just tried to get back in position to tip it back in," he said. "I'm pretty good at following my shots."

Fourteen of his 18 points and six of his 10 rebounds came in the second half, which began with UK trailing by eight points. Daniels got it rolling early after the break, scoring UK's first two points on a slick reverse layup, and four of UK's next 12 points on an inside feed and spin move. That cut the Wildcats' disadvantage to 37-34.

UK hit its first seven shots of the second half.

Fitch's trey at 13:10 tied it at 37, and UK never trailed after going ahead 43-41.

And right in the middle of it all was Daniels, with a 10-footer in traffic, then another off an inside feed. He followed it with his lone assist as UK took a 45-41 lead.

UK scored 10 points in the first three minutes of the game to go up 10-2 but put up only 10 more over the next 17 minutes to go into halftime down 28-20.

The Rupp fans booed as the Wildcats headed for the locker room.

"Coach Smith did all the talking - all the way up until we came out of the locker room for the second half," Daniels said.



Team rebounds - 5.

Team rebounds - 4.

North Carolina2828- 56
Kentucky2041- 61
3-pointers - North Carolina 5-17 (McCants 0-3, Scott 3-6, Felton 1-7, Terry 1-1), Kentucky 5-18 (Azubuike 0-3, Hawkins 0-2, Fitch 5-11, Cote 0-2). Technicals - None. Officials - Clougherty, Eades, Lopes. Attendance - 23,014.

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