- Friday, March 14 2003 -
SEC Tournament (at New Orleans, LA)
Kentucky - 81 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 2nd by AP]
Vanderbilt - 63 (Head Coach: Kevin Stallings) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 36, Vanderbilt 28
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Florida 69 - 67|||||Auburn 78 - 58|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats avoid upset, advance to semifinals
NEW ORLEANS – Kentucky could have been the next victim.
Just 24 hours after top-ranked Arizona was upset in its conference tournament by UCLA, a team ‘Zona had beaten by 35 and 36 points in their two meetings, UK was staring down the barrel of perhaps going the same route after beating Vanderbilt by a combined 84 points this season.
The Commodores, who knocked off Alabama the night before, came out firing, jumping out to a 17-8 lead nearly eight minutes into the contest, as the Cats struggled to find any kind of rhythm. Even Coach Tubby Smith's benching of the five starters at the first television timeout didn't do the trick. Throw in the fact that junior guard Gerald Fitch was benched to start the game for "an issue" between he and Smith, and another exit in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals looked like a very real possibility.
But much like UK did in both Nashville and Lexington against Vanderbilt, the Cats turned up the defensive pressure and ran the ‘Dores out of the building in the end, advancing to the semifinals with an 81-63 rout at the Louisiana Superdome.
"I've got to compliment Vanderbilt," Smith said. "After the way we won in Lexington, they really came back and came after us early and often."
Smith's displeasure with his starters was evident from the beginning, as the Cats started 3-of-8 from the field and turned the ball over three times in the first four minutes. Smith responded by yanking all five and replacing them with Jules Camara, Antwain Barbour, Kelenna Azubuike, Bernard Cote and Fitch's first appearance.
"I wanted more intensity," Smith said. "We missed some easy shots and that was telling me we weren't mentally sharp. I wanted to see if we could get a fresh group in there."
When the starters returned at the 11:43 mark, UK immediately went on a spurt to tie the game at 17, then used a 14-2 spark to end the half with a 36-28 advantage.
UK then stormed out of the locker room and extended the lead to 18 with another 12-2 jaunt, before leading by as many as 26 midway through the second half. During the 26-4 run over the two halves, Vanderbilt made just 4-of-26 field goals, a far cry from their 7-of-13 start.
"We just weren't up to the task," Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said. "We got off to a great start, then Kentucky got the defense going like they do when they play well and made that little run in the first half and got control of the game. Then the start of the second half was really our downfall.
"In order for us to have had a chance, we needed a great shooting night and their defense dictates that."
Vanderbilt was held to just 35 percent for the game, with star Matt Freije scoring only 13 points on 5-of-16 from the field. UK was scorching hot on the other end, making 53.4 percent and holding a 46-22 advantage in points in the paint.
Four players scored in double digits for UK, led by recently crowned SEC Player of the Year Keith Bogans' 16 points. Jules Camara added 13 points, including six straight UK's late first half run. Cliff Hawkins also added nine assists and Marquis Estill finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and three rejections.
Keith Bogans (#10) slams one home against Vanderbilt
Bogans, Estill, Fitch, Hawkins and Daniels enjoy the closing moments