- Saturday, February 5 2005 -
Kentucky - 84 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 6th by AP and 4th by ESPN/USA Today]
Vanderbilt - 70 (Head Coach: Kevin Stallings) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 46, Vanderbilt 29
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|Arkansas 68 - 67|||||Florida 69 - 66|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats slam 'Dores to stay perfect in the SEC
NASHVILLE Ð Vanderbilt had the funky gym setup, Memorial Magic and a three-point shooting attack that gives everyone fits. Kentucky had a reborn Chuck Hayes and a suffocating defense.
The Cats (17-2, 8-0 SEC) finished a brutal stretch of five road games in six outings by putting Vanderbilt in a stranglehold early and then tightening the noose throughout before cruising to an 84-70 victory in front of 14,316 fans at Memorial Gym. The win left UK perfect through half the conference schedule and was the 17th consecutive triumph over a Southeastern Conference opponent.
"It was a good win for us," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "Any time you come in here with the tough atmosphere this place has and leave with a win, you leave happy.
"We were on top of our game."
The Cats settled this game early, jumping out to a 9-0 lead, then pushing the advantage steadily out to 17-pint halftime lead. UK capped the dominant first half when Smith called a timeout with 4.2 seconds left and drew up a play that had Rajon Rondo drive the ball down court before finding Kelenna Azubuike. Azubuike then banked in a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to give UK a 46-29 edge.
"When you bank one in like that, it's a good day," Smith said. "We were unconscious. When you make threes like we did, we are going to be tough to beat."
But it wasn't just UK's 53 percent shooting in the first half that helped the Cats trample the Commodores in Nashville for the second time in three years. The Cats knocked Vanderbilt on its heels from the opening buzzer, forcing five turnovers in the first five minutes and converting those miscues into points on the other end. When the dust settled at halftime, UK had caused 13 turnovers and turned that baker's dozen into 22 points on the other end.
"They had 20-something points off our turnovers in the first half," Vandy forward Corey Smith said. "You cut those in half and it becomes a different ball game. If we hadn't been down so much at halftime, it's a totally different game."
For UK, the start was crucial given Vandy's habit of jumping out to early leads at home and forcing opponents to play from behind. After a week off, it was exactly the beginning UK needed to get into the flow of the game.
"Last year we came in here and they handed it to us," sophomore forward Bobby Perry said. "We felt we owed them something. Getting on top 9-0 was a big deal. That started on the defensive end. We were getting baskets in transition and really stopped their game plan."
UK also benefited from a more traditional Chuck Hayes-type game from its emotional leader. Hayes had been struggling from the effects Ð psychological as much as physical Ð of a broken nose, but was back to the tough man role against the 'Dores. Hayes, who also hit his first three-pointer in nearly a calendar year, finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two steals in 36 minutes.
"I just had to play my game," Hayes said. "At Tennessee I got hurt and at Arkansas I got in foul trouble, so I just wanted to be aggressive and wanted to create for my teammates.
"It's all (been) mental and I'm over it now. I'm comfortable with the mask."
UK seems to be more comfortable as well, but it took a clutch play by Hayes that sparked a 14-2 second half run to put the game away. Ahead just 57-45, Hayes produced a steal that led to a Patrick Sparks lay-in, then raced back downcourt and swatted away a Smith lay-up attempt that led to two Perry free throws and a 61-45 lead. The edge ballooned to a game-high 71-47 with 9:51 left on a Ravi Moss putback before UK lost focus in the closing minutes and allowed Vandy to cut the final score to a respectable margin.
"We just got content and too relaxed," Hayes said.
It was about all UK did wrong in thwarting the magic.
Bobby Perry (#13) searches for an open teammate as Vandy's Corey Smith applies pressure
Chuck Hayes (44) shoots inside between Dawid Przybyszewski and Dan Cage
Joe Crawford (#32) scores inside