- Tuesday, November 23 2004 -
(at Cincinnati, OH)
Kentucky - 73 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 8th by AP]
Ball State - 53 (Head Coach: Tim Buckley) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Ball State 29, Kentucky 29
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|Coppin State 77 - 46|||||Georgia State 77 - 59|
Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Sparks, Alleyne key second half runaway for UK
CINCINNATI - Kentucky's annual trip to Cincinnati for the fans in Northern Kentucky and Ohio wasn't much of a party for a while, but then the Cats' new guys struck a mighty blow as UK ran away from Ball State.
Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike have been in basketball cage matches before, but when Kentucky found itself trailing Ball State early in the second half, it was a trio of newcomers who turned the game on its ear.
Junior transfer Patrick Sparks, sophomore center Shagari Alleyne and freshman point guard Rajon Rondo keyed a second half domination as the Cats moved to 2-0 on the season with 73-53 victory in front of 15,563 fans at U.S. Bank Arena on the edge of the Ohio River.
Sparks came alive by scoring 20 points, 14 in the second half, and Alleyne corralled three dunks in the half on his way to a career-high 10 points to help the Cats roll. Even freshmen Rondo (four assists) and Randolph Morris (10 points, five rebounds) aided the UK's second half run.
"(Ball State) took the game to us," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "We had to earn this win. Early on, their intensity was greater than ours. This is a game we can learn from."
The Cats didn't look mentally sharp for much of the first 25 minutes of the game. Ball State rallied from small deficits several times in the first half before hitting intermission tied at 29. In that half, the Cardinals outrebounded UK and repeatedly got to the rim off the dribble.
That all changed minutes into the second half. Smith made an adjustment to force his team to switch off every screen to stop the dribble penetration, which led to Ball State rushing their sets. It didn't take long for a 35-33 deficit to become a 56-42 lead with 7:16 left after a 22-7 spurt. From there, the Cats coasted, with the lead reaching as much as 23 points near the end.
"I don't think we stuck with the game plan like we did in the first half," Ball State coach Tim Buckley said. "We played a little too fast and took some tough shots. They can quickly get out and go and they got some buckets in transition.
"They make you pay. That's why they are a great basketball team."
Hayes, who rang up his second double double in as many games with 10 points and 11 rebounds to go along with three steals and two blocks, said the change in defensive philosophy reversed the momentum of the game.
"It made a huge difference," Hayes said. "We zoned a little and then Coach decided to switch everything. When you switch everything, that prevents you from panicking and getting out of position. There were no easy buckets."
As UK turned up the defensive pressure, Sparks, Morris and Alleyne took over on the offensive end of the floor.
Sparks drilled a three from the top of the key off a feed from Hayes, then Morris added a three-point play and tip-in off a free throw miss to give UK a 43-37 lead. Alleyne beat everyone down the floor off the break shortly after for a bank shot, then converted two alley-oop feeds from Sparks and Hayes, before Sparks capped the run with two more quick jumpers to push the lead to 14 points.
"Patrick understands the system and when his shots come in the offense," Smith said. "He makes great decisions and leads by example. His mental toughness is like Chuck's. He puts it all on the line."
When the game was on the line on this night, Sparks' toughness, Alleyne's height and Morris' composure were just what the doctor ordered.
It's only two games, but junior guard Kelenna Azubuike has seemed a bit off his game thus far. After blowing up in the exhibition games, Azubuike has scored just six points in both of UK's regular season games and has looked like he is trying too hard at times.
"He's been pressing a little bit," Smith said. "People are going to hone in on him and Chuck because they know they are our bread and butter."
Still, Smith said he was happy that Azubuike played well defensively and got on the glass for seven rebounds despite shooting just 3-of-7 from the field.
"His shooting percentage has slipped some, but Kelenna has been dealing with some things and I think he's dealing with them the right way," Smith said. "His defense was pretty good and he got to the boards."
Shagari Alleyne has been 7-foot-3 for a long time, but it seems like his teammates are just starting to figure it out. The sophomore center converted two alley-oops from Chuck Hayes and Patrick Sparks, while also finishing another dunk and two short bank shots in his best game to date.
Smith said Sparks can be thanked because he spent a great deal of time with Alleyne after every practice all summer long working on the lob pass to Alleyne.
"At 7-foot-3, no one can get to it," Smith said of the lob. He's reaching over people dunking. The guys understand he can handle a pass there. No one can get to it if it's thrown correctly."
Sparks, in his typical fashion, shrugged the extra work off as just figuring out how his big man liked the ball.
"Shagari plays above the rim," Sparks said. "It's a big asset to have in there."
Shagari Alleyne skies for a one-handed dunk
Kelenna Azubuike shoots a hook over a Ball State's Anthony Kent (32) and Dennis Trammell (30)