- Wednesday, February 26 2003 -
Tennessee - 68 (Head Coach: Buzz Peterson) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 80 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 2nd by AP]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 39, Tennessee 36
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Mississippi State 70 - 62|||||Georgia 74 - 66|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
UK rediscovers defense, tops Tennessee 80-68
For 20 minutes, it looked like the nation's longest winning streak had reached its final destination in Rupp Arena with Tennessee playing engineer, knocking down impossible jumpers and refusing to fold in the face of a hostile crowd.
But after Tubby Smith let his team have it, Kentucky came out after halftime and steam-rolled its way past the Volunteers 80-68, extending it's streak to 17 consecutive games. The Cats completed an unbeaten February for the first time since 1996, and followed an unblemished January, having not lost since Dec. 30 to Louisville.
"When this team is threatened, they respond the right way," Smith said. "That's a great quality to have. We really are a fightingÉ
"When our backs are up against the wall and we are cornered, we come out like Wildcats, as we're supposed to."
It wasn't all bad for UK in the first half. Despite allowing Tennessee to shoot 62.5 percent in the half, the Cats still somehow had the lead 39-36 heading into intermission. Even so, Smith gave the Cats a tongue lashing during the break, challenging them to rediscover the defensive intensity that keyed their long streak.
"It was a whole lot of Coach Smith," junior Cliff Hawkins said. "He let us have it in the locker room. He told us we weren't challenging guys, just like Vandy. We had to go back to what we did best."
UK did just that, ripping off a 14-2 spurt to extend the lead to a game-high 15 points. During the run, the Cats scored several buckets in transition and added two three-point plays. Both Smith and Tennessee Coach Buzz Peterson said the 26 points UK scored off turnovers, 19 in the second half, were the difference.
"They scored (26) points off turnovers," Peterson said. "We shoot nearly 59 percent, but gave up too many easy buckets in transition. They are so good in transition."
It was UK's worst defensive effort of the season statistically, but the fourth time in as many games where UK won despite allowing a team to hit better than half its shots. Oddly enough, the Volunteers were victimized twice by that trend.
"In the first half, we couldn't stop them," Smith said. "We didn't much in the second half either. We couldn't stop them otherwise. When they got shots off, they made big baskets."
Still, the Cats were able to ratchet up the defense just enough to force Tennessee into some mistakes, while also blanketing All-SEC candidate Ron Slay throughout much of the second half. The senior still ended up with 22 points and 14 rebounds, but Smith's rotation of Chuck Hayes, Jules Camara and Marquis Estill seemed to frustrate Slay.
"Jules is very long and gave him a tough target to see over," Smith said. "We gave him some finesse, then sent Chuck at him, then Jules and Quis."
While the defense struggled at times, UK's offense was solid, as five players scored in double figures, led by Bogans' 15 points. Both Hayes and Camara added 12, while Cliff Hawkins had 11 and Estill, who also added nine rebounds, 10.
Much like Mississippi State however, the game wasn't sealed until late, when UK weathered a Vols' run that cut the lead to six, then hit its final eight free throws in clinching it's 13th consecutive SEC victory.
UT's Ron Slay is hemmed in along the baseline
Cliff Hawkins attempts a circus shot