- Saturday, March 15 2003 -
SEC Tournament (at New Orleans, LA)
Kentucky - 78 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 2nd by AP]
Auburn - 58 (Head Coach: Cliff Ellis) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Auburn 36, Kentucky 36
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Vanderbilt 81 - 63|||||Mississippi State 64 - 57|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
UK conquer Auburn, meet Miss. State in final
NEW ORLEANS Ð Staring down the barrel of its first halftime deficit in two months, Kentucky figured it was about time to flip the switch if it wanted to avoid being the latest upset victim in this March Madness.
UK did just that, clawing back to even at the break and then roaring past Auburn in the second half for a 78-58 victory before 21,427 fans at the Louisiana Superdome. The Cats (28-3) held Auburn to just 33.3 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes, using its trademark defensive pressure to run the nation's longest winning streak to 22 games.
"At the half, there was nothing to say," junior Gerald Fitch said. "We understood what we did wrong. We understood the way we win. We knew what coach was going to say before he even said it.
"That's what makes us a special team."
Although UK had a lack of defensive intensity in the first half, it was a confusing box-and-1 and triangle-in-2 defense Auburn was employing that had the Cats flummoxed. The Tigers (20-11) were zoning most of the Cats, but trailing both Keith Bogans and Fitch around the court. The result was a confused UK and a combined 3-of-12 shooting from UK's main offensive weapons.
"It confused us a lot," Fitch said. "They changed their defense so much, we didn't know what (offense) to run. They were chasing us everywhere.
"Some possessions they were changing two or three times and we were settling for jump shots."
At the half, the UK coaching staff went about dissecting the gimmick defense, while Bogans asked for the assignment of guarding Auburn star Marquis Daniels, who had 12 points, five rebounds and five assists at intermission.
"They were doing whatever they wanted," Bogans said. "I asked the coaching staff if I could guard Daniels because he was trying to take over."
Daniels scored just four points in the second half, as UK used a 21-6 run to start the half to put the Tigers on the ropes. The lead reached as many 22 points as the Cats provided the knock out punch with a Cliff Hawkins one-handed dunk on a fast break at the 7:40 mark.
The end result didn't exactly do the contest justice though. Auburn, who played UK tough in Lexington earlier in the season, jumped on the Cats quickly, using a 10-2 run to claim a 21-19 lead. The Tigers twice extended their lead to five before UK pulled even at 36 with a Bogans runner right before the horn.
UK also had some anxious moments when Erik Daniels took an awful spill after he lost his grip on the rim when he dunked on a fast break. Daniels went parallel to the floor before crashing shoulder first to the ground. As he lay there writhing in pain, it looked like UK might have suffered a serious blow to their title hopes.
"I just slipped off the rim and lost control," Daniels said, downplaying the fall.
Daniels was helped to the locker room, then reemerged with his right wrist heavily taped to a thunderous ovation. Daniels, who scored a team-high 17 points and had eight rebounds, was diagnosed with a bruised wrist.
As for the team, well, the locker room dry erase board said it all Ð Ô7 More'.
Keith Bogans and Marco Killingsworth battle for the ball
Erik Daniels (#14) takes a hard spill after dunking over Auburn's Brandon Robinson (#13)