- Saturday, January 3 2004 -
North Carolina - 56 (Head Coach: Roy Williams) - [Ranked 9th by AP]
Kentucky - 61 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 8th by AP and 6th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: North Carolina 28, Kentucky 20
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Austin Peay 61 - 53|||||Vanderbilt 75 - 63|
Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Moss sparks comeback, Fitch drills winner
It took a walk-on to spark the Kentucky basketball team, then a senior with ice in his veins to deliver the knockout punch, as Kentucky rallied in the second half to defeat North Carolina 61-56 at Rupp Arena.
The come-from-behind victory gave UK (9-1) a sweep in the four-game series between college basketball's two winningest programs that ended this season. The Cats also finished their five consecutive Saturdays against premier programs with a 4-1 record.
"This is a very big win," junior Chuck Hayes said. "The Austin Peay game we didn't play with the passion we needed to. This was a big game though, we needed it."
Strangely enough, when UK needed it most, Coach Tubby Smith looked down his bench and plucked out sophomores Bernard Cote and Ravi Moss to help the Cats in their comeback bid. Like most of Smith's decisions, it worked beautifully as UK rallied from a 10-point second half deficit to reclaim the lead.
Still, it took senior Gerald Fitch's fade-away 25-footer from the left wing in the final 25 seconds to ice the game for UK. After North Carolina's Ray Felton buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to close the gap to 57-56 with 56 seconds left, UK went to its best clutch performer.
Fitch tried to drive the lane early in the possession but was blocked out of bounds by Sean May. As the officials discussed what to do about the shot clock, UK huddled up around Smith and drew up a final play. The Cats inbounded with 11 seconds on the shot clock, then Fitch used a Chuck Hayes screen in the corner to free himself from Jackie Manuel.
With just seconds remaining on the shot clock, Fitch rose up over the 6-foot-9 May and swished the long three with 24.2 seconds remaining, sending the Rupp Arena crowd into a frenzy. UK sealed the win with a Cliff Hawkins steal and free throw.
"That was a big-time three," Smith said of Fitch's shot. "After (UNC) knocked one down, I was happy to see him hit that and give us a cushion."
Carolina coach Roy Williams admitted he was both disappointed with the outcome but impressed with Fitch's heroics.
"I love college basketball and kids that play college basketball," Williams said. "The feeling that Gerald Fitch must have right now is a feeling that everyone wishes they could have."
It almost didn't get to that point though. UK again bolted to an early 12-4 lead, but made just 4-of- 24 field goals the rest of the half and found itself in a 28-20 hole at the break. During that span, Hawkins and Fitch hit just 2-of-14 shots and UK failed to get anything going inside the paint against the length and athleticism of Carolina.
But Smith made some key adjustments at halftime, switching UK's offense a bit to create more spacing and use the pick-and-roll to create easy baskets. The plan worked, as UK scored 24 points in the paint in the second half, claiming its first lead since early in the first half at 43-41 with 10:54 remaining.
The Cats never relinquished the lead the rest of the game, mainly due to the play of Moss and Cote who didn't have a great statistical effect on the game, but whose heart and big plays certainly did.
"I was really impressed with Ravi Moss, the effort he gave and Bernard Cote," Smith said. Ravi, a walk-on, has great heart and great hustle. He gave us exactly what we needed Ð some energy and enthusiasm."
As for Fitch, he led UK with 21 points, while Erik Daniels - who got sick early in the game - added 18 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. Melvin Scott led the Tar Heels with 16 points, while the Cats held May to just eight points and six rebounds.
Gerald Fitch with the game clincher
Cliff Hawkins challenges UNC's Raymond Felton