Saturday, March 20, 2004

UK: 'Cats pull away in 2nd half to win


Early 'scare' doesn't rattle top seed

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - The thing about the NCAA Tournament is that the moments appear anxious earlier than usual.

PHOTO GALLERY
photo gallery
Photo gallery: UK win
So the fact top-seeded Kentucky led 16th seed Florida A&M by just three points early in the second half Friday qualified as a crisis. For the fans, that is.

The Wildcats? They kept cool and let the Rattlers run themselves into exhaustion in an eventual 96-76 victory at Nationwide Arena.

"We never panic," senior Erik Daniels said.

Said sophomore Kelenna Azubuike: "Losing never crossed our minds."

UK (27-4) advances to a second-round contest at approximately 4:50 p.m. Sunday against the winner of Friday's late Washington-UAB game.

Midway through the second half, UK started on a prolonged 26-7 run as FAMU started coming up short on all the 3-pointers it was hitting earlier. How short? A couple were air balls.

The Wildcats settled down after a pyrotechnic first half that ended 60-52 in their favor, and would shoot 56.5 percent on the night.

It was UK's highest point total in the NCAAs since a 101-70 beating of Utah in 1996.

The Wildcats had five double-figure scorers, led by Gerald Fitch's 26 points. For the second consecutive game, junior forward Chuck Hayes (12 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists) came within two assists of a triple-double.

FAMU (15-17), which at No. 287 in the Sagarin computer ratings was lower-rated than any team UK played all season, gave it an interesting test. With a streetball style and hot shooting, it hit 55.3 percent of its first-half shots, including 8-of-17 on 3-pointers.

The 52 points FAMU scored in the first half are the most an opponent has scored on UK in a half since March 4, 2001, when Florida had 56 in the second half of a 94-86 beating of the Wildcats. In NCAA Tournament play, it's the most an opponent has scored in one half since North Carolina had 53 first-half points in a 79-72 victory over UK in 1977.

"They took us to task the first half," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "We regrouped, settled down and did a better job defensively."

The Wildcats, once out of earshot of Smith, said they enjoyed the pace of the first half. But ...

"I love to play that kind of basketball, but that's not the type of game we play," Daniels said.

Said Fitch: "It was fun, but it's not fun when they're scoring, too."

FAMU was within four points with 13:30 to play when it hit the wall. It had no bench to speak of to help. The Wildcats, while cooling the tempo, started beating the Rattlers off the dribble. And UK controlled the inside with 46 points in the paint.

"The fast pace of the game - we had to exert so much energy to stay at a high level the first 30 minutes - I knew we would run out of gas," FAMU coach Mike Gillespie Sr. said.

FAMU shot just 32.1 percent in the second half, finishing at 45.5 percent for the game. Its top scorer, Terrence Woods, had 20 first-half points but finished with 24.

"Kelenna shut down Terrence Woods, and that was the difference in the second half," UK guard Cliff Hawkins said.

The Wildcats spoke of Friday as a lesson to refocus. Future foes won't fold as easily. "It was hopefully just us getting ourselves in tournament form," Fitch said.

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Next for UK: vs. Washington/UAB winner, 5 p.m. Sunday.

---

.

Fla. A&MMFGAttFTAttRAFTOTP
Ayodele26231260216
Harper336800704313
Wilkins3471801323016
Tate23460015239
Woods3382025213424
White20161214043
Henderson1000000000
Kelly10120001012
Zamore5011210101
Sams1010000000
Russell14110030412
Totals20030665122413191776
Team rebounds - 5.

KentuckyMFGAttFTAttRAFTOTP
Daniels3181223641118
Hayes3358251182412
Hawkins255900343514
Fitch32101722511226
Azubuike325623422214
Moss3000001110
Stockton4010000010
Carrier3010021000
Obrzut3002200012
LeMaster1010200000
Cote3010000100
Perry6010011100
Alleyne1000010000
Thomas5121220203
Barbour18134441107
Totals200356215233923151796
Team rebounds - 3.

Florida A&M5224-76
Kentucky6036-96
3-pointers - FAMU 11-30 (Ayodele 1-2, Harper 1-1, Wilkins 2-9, Tate 1-2, Woods 6-14, White 0-2), UK 11-28 (Daniels 0-1, Hawkins 4-8, Fitch 4-10, Azubuike 2-2, Stockton 0-1, Carrier 0-1, Cote 0-1, Perry 0-1, Barbour 1-3). Technicals - None. Officials - N/A. Attendance - N/A.

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E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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