- Saturday, January 10 2004 -
Vanderbilt - 63 (Head Coach: Kevin Stallings) - [Ranked 20th by AP]
|Scott Hundley (*)||30||6||9||2||3||1||1||0||3||3||1||1||2||0||1||15|
Kentucky - 75 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 7th by AP and 5th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 34, Vanderbilt 32
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|North Carolina 61 - 56|||||Mississippi State 67 - 66|
Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Late flurry helps UK down Vanderbilt 75-63
Don't get Kentucky coach Tubby Smith wrong, he was more than pleased with UK's 75-63 Southeastern Conference-opening victory over Vanderbilt at Rupp Arena. But Smith is also worried about his team's ‘dangerous' habit of losing focus.
The Cats (10-1, 1-0 SEC) once again ran out to a big first half lead, burying Vanderbilt (12-1, 1-1) with a 15-3 spurt to start the game, but allowed the Commodores to creep back into the game by halftime. A similar scenario played out in the second half, as UK opened with an 8-0 run, then watched as Vandy closed the gap to as few as two points with 5:52 remaining.
"I have confidence in our guys they will make the plays necessary and find a way to win," Smith said. "But I'm concerned because we can focus when it's critical, but not all the time. It's a good mentality to have, but it's a very dangerous mentality."
After the quick start, the Cats struggled to keep control of the basketball and Vanderbilt, led by Kentucky native Scott Hundley, sneaked back into contention. The Commodores, who were beaten by 62 points in their last trip to Rupp, then used a late 17-7 run of their own to pull within 34-32 at halftime.
The Cats knocked Vandy back on its heels to start the second half, but turnovers by normally sure-handed guards Cliff Hawkins and Gerald Fitch muddled UK's attack just like the first half. Vanderbilt star Matt Freije finally awoke with his first points of the game at the 12:04 mark, then scored seven straight points to pull Vandy within 57-55. Just as Smith suspected, UK immediately went on an 11-2 jaunt to put the game away.
"It's not good," Fitch, who scored 16 points and had six assists and six turnovers, said of the focus. "I feel I (lose focus) sometimes. We focus when we really need to. It's a bad habit and we need to get out of that habit."
Some of the credit should go to a much-improved Vanderbilt team as well though. The Commodores shot just 41 percent and were outrebounded 42-23, but still hung tough until the end and had several stirring comebacks.
"We were bothered by the atmosphere or the difficulty of the opponent," Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. "There is something to be said for that.
"I thought the key was (UK's) ability to get a lot of pressure and take us out of rhythm. Their intensity at the start of each half was really key. On both occasions, we were trying to dig out of a hole."
Each and every time the Commodores got close to climbing out of the holes, UK answered the challenge. After Freije's three-point play made the score 57-55, Fitch made four free throws and Bernard Cote had a reverse stickback to push the lead back to seven. Hawkins then stripped Freije from behind off the press, saved the ball to Chuck Hayes, who hit Fitch for a three-pointer from the corner. Hawkins then killed the ‘Dores last hopes with a circus bank shot at 3:25 left, giving UK a 68-57 lead.
"I thought he threw it into the e-Rupp-tion Zone," Fitch said.
Hawkins made a play instead, which is why Smith might be a bit worried.
Cliff Hawkins looks for an opening
Bernard Cote scores against Vanderbilt's Przybyszewski