- Tuesday, January 25 2005 -
Kentucky - 84 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 7th by AP and 6th by ESPN/USA Today]
Tennessee - 62 (Head Coach: Buzz Peterson) - [Unranked]
|Chris Lofton (*)||31||6||14||5||9||0||0||1||2||3||2||3||0||0||2||17|
Halftime Score: Kentucky 44, Tennessee 33
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Louisiana State 89 - 58|||||Arkansas 68 - 67|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats show resolve after losing their leader
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Ð The Kentucky basketball team entered the locker room at halftime with its emotional leader and heart and soul on his way to a local hospital in an ambulance. A collapse by a team crushed by the loss could have followed and been, in some respects, understandable.
But the Cats (15-2, 6-0 SEC) proved their intestinal fortitude, not only surviving without rugged senior forward Chuck Hayes, but bullying Tennessee all over the floor in a 84-62 thrashing at Thompson-Boling Arena. For a team that has never had to face the reality of stepping foot on the floor without its fearless leader, the result perhaps taught them something they didn't know about themselves.
"I like the way our players responded, especially when Chuck went down," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "We showed a lot of heart, determination and grit. I liked our poise and I thought we maturely handled this type of environment on the road."
The loss of Hayes could have been devastating for a team that has been trying to find an identity and low-post physical presence outside of the senior. Hayes doubled over in pain with 6:30 remaining in the first half, clutching his nose as he was led to the bench by UK trainer David Kindy. At the time, the Cats were leading 29-24, a lead that stretched to 39-26 as UK capped a 16-2 run with a Kelenna Azubuike dunk on the break. The lead stabilized at 44-33 at the break, when UK returned to the locker room to see Hayes leaving for Ft. Sanders Hospital in Knoxville.
Sensing his team might be a bit in shock to see their leader down, Smith said focused on making sure every one else Ð namely reserve forwards Bobby Perry and Sheray Thomas Ð understood it was time to step forward.
"I'm not a real 'rah-rah' guy," Smith said. "They didn't see (Chuck). They have never seen him hurt and to be honest, neither have I. He's never missed anything.
"It shows what our kids are all about. They certainly care about Chuck and they wanted to win for him."
Whatever shock value might have lingered after the injury disappeared quickly in the second half. Thomas, who had played just 47 minutes all season after missing time because of an abdominal tumor, started the second half and immediately hit a free throw, got an offensive rebound that led to a score and converted a backdoor lob from Rajon Rondo.
Perry, who has been a serviceable back up to Hayes most of the year, came on in relief of Thomas and keyed a 13-3 run by UK that stemmed a Volunteers' comeback bid. After Tennessee had cut the lead to 49-43 with 13:50 remaining, Perry scored three putback baskets to push the lead back out to 64-46 with 8:44 left.
"When someone like Chuck goes down, you get the feeling you have to step up," Perry said. "Me and Sheray emulated Chuck's game and tried to take it to another level. Rebounding is all about effort and getting to the glass. That's something I got from Chuck."
Thomas and Perry combined to give the Cats 15 points and 14 rebounds off the bench in place of Hayes, while Patrick Sparks and Kelenna Azubuike scored 19 and 17 points, respectively. As the Cats have done more frequently when they have a lead late in the game, they then spread the floor and let the quickness of their perimeter players create driving lanes down the stretch.
"It puts a lot of pressure on the opponent when they are behind," Smith said.
Tennessee never got over the hump, especially with starting center Brandon Crump out because of an ankle injury suffered in the Vols' previous game. Major Wingate and Andre Patterson filled in nicely and Kentucky native Chris Lofton scored 17 points in his first crack at the school that passed on him, but it wasn't near enough to slow down UK's suddenly clicking offense.
In fact, not even the loss of UK's heart and soul was enough to slow the Cats down. In the end, it might have even been a blessing in that the Cats certainly discovered something in themselves.
UK's heralded freshmen class is starting to show the signs of kids who are figuring out the college game and how they fit into the Cats' system.
Guards Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford and Rajon Rondo each contributed a solid statistical line. Bradley scored six points, had five rebounds and dished out four assists, while Crawford tallied eight points, including two huge threes in the first half. Rondo was in foul trouble for most of the first half, but still ended up with nine points and two assists.
Randolph Morris and Major Wingate tip off the action
Patrick Sparks (#22) shoots past UT's Chris Lofton