Sunday, January 11, 2004
Wildcats dominate post, Vandy
UK beats Vandy for the 22nd time in last 23 meetings dating to 1993
By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LEXINGTON - Kentucky's players had read how Vanderbilt had bulked up in the offseason, and that its rebounding numbers had followed.
Yet the Wildcats knew a thing or two about pushing Vandy around.
Their dominance around the basket enabled them to post a 75-63 victory Saturday in Rupp Arena. In beating the Commodores for the 22nd time in the last 23 meetings and the 30th consecutive time in Lexington, UK spoiled Vandy's school-record 12-0 start.
Vanderbilt's Matt Freije falls over UK's Erik Daniels.
(Gary Landers photo)
"We heard that they've gotten better and put on some pounds in the weight room," UK forward Chuck Hayes said. "Coach (Tubby Smith) wanted us to bang with them, let them know that nothing was going to come easy in the paint."
The seventh-ranked Wildcats (10-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) outrebounded Vandy 42-23, and 20 assists enabled them to dominate the paint. The 20th-ranked Commodores, who led the SEC in rebounding margin at plus-10, ranked fourth nationally in that statistic.
Though Vandy (12-1, 1-1) made a few comeback attempts, closing within two points with just less than six minutes left, UK quickly stretched the lead back to double digits and wasn't in jeopardy late.
The story on this night, though, was of another team learning UK's undersized frontline is also unsung.
"Size really doesn't matter," UK forward Erik Daniels said, "because we have the athletes that can rebound."
Daniels, a senior from Princeton High, is the tallest starter at 6 feet 8. But UK has a plus-6.4 rebounding margin on the season and has been beaten on the boards by just one team, Louisville.
This isn't a matter of muscle, though Daniels has bulked up to play center.
Where UK excels is in playing the angles, knowing where the caroms will come. That's how swingman Kelenna Azubuike totaled a career-high 11 rebounds Saturday and how point guard Cliff Hawkins tied a career high with seven rebounds.
Much of that also traces to defense.
"When you take wild shots, it's going to bring long rebounds," Smith said. "Us challenging their outside shots and them ... only shooting 27 percent (on 3-pointers, at 5-of-23) was a big key to us rebounding the ball."
Offensively, UK succeeds more with brains than brawn.
"They're a very good passing team, especially interior passing," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said of UK.
The Wildcats shot 54 percent and held Vandy to 41 percent.
UK was led in scoring by three players with 16 points apiece: Daniels, Gerald Fitch and Azubuike, who tied a career high for points and had his first double-double.
The downside for UK: 23 turnovers, one off the season high. Hawkins and Fitch had career highs for turnovers with eight and six, respectively.
"We have a tendency to want to hit the home run, to score quickly," Smith said. "We tried some ill-advised passes."
UK saw a 13-point second-half lead shrink to two but then used an 11-2 run to put the game away. Fitch made four free throws and a 3-pointer in that stretch, and Hawkins made a circus shot - a hanging, scoop layup with his non-shooting hand - that brought down the house.
UK's schedule doesn't let up, as it travels Tuesday to No. 22 Mississippi State (13-0, 2-0 SEC).
Team rebounds - 0.
Team rebounds - 3.
3-pointers - V 5-23 (Freije 0-5, Smith 0-2, Moore 2-5, Holwerda 0-1, Lakey 0-2, Przybyszewski 1-5, Hundley 2-3), UK 5-11 (Hayes 0-1, Azubuike 1-2, Hawkins 0-1, Fitch 3-4, Cote 1-2, Barbour 0-1). Technicals - None. Att. - 22,927.
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