- Friday, November 21 2003 -
Winthrop - 44 (Head Coach: Gregg Marshall) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 65 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith)
Halftime Score: Kentucky 32, Winthrop 21
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Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Surprise! Defense carries UK to 65-44 victory
The season opener for Kentucky represented a chance for the Cats to start making amends for how last year ended. What the Cats found was you can never stray too far from your roots.
Although the offense wasn't clicking on all cylinders, UK (1-0) resumed its swarming defense, throttling a solid Winthrop team 65-44 in front of 21,271 fans at Rupp Arena. The Cats' defensive effort was so dominant, the Golden Eagles did not break to 40-point barrier until 2:08 remained and shot just 29.8 percent for the game.
"We've always played good defense," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "Our guys trust and believe and know it'll carry us. They've been sold on that. Cliff (Hawkins) had two or three five-second calls and I thought he could have had five or six. I don't know if there is a better on the ball defender, if there is, I haven't seen him."
Winthrop managed just 14 field goals against UK's stingy defense despite having prepared for the Cats in an unusual way.
"They've got one of the greatest coaches in America that teaches a great defense," Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall said. "Their guards make every pass an adventure. A couple of times I had to call a timeout just to get us to slow down and take a breath.
"You can't simulate it. We put a sixth defender on the court for practice to simulate it, but it's different when you have an athlete in the passing lane." While the Golden Eagles turned the ball over 29 times against UK's pressure, the Cats didn't exactly protect the ball either, fumbling it 24 times on their own. Hawkins, Gerald Fitch and Kelenna Azubuike combined for 14 of those turnovers as the Cats looked a little anxious for much of the night.
"Not really," Fitch said when asked if UK started the season the way it wanted to. "We got a win, which is the most important part. But we had a lot of turnovers and missed a lot of shots."
Smith said simply of the turnovers, "We made some terrible decisions with the ball."
Even so, UK slowly edged ahead and then ripped off a 21-6 run to start the second half and open a 53-27 lead. The Cats were so sticky defensively, Winthrop failed to score the first 5:02 of the second stanza. Offensively though, UK was a bit out of sync. Erik Daniels led the Cats with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Azubuike added 11 points and nine boards and both Chuck Hayes and Fitch pitched in 12. At least one Cat was unhappy with his performance though.
"I was just broke, man," Fitch said. "My shot was just broke. I couldn't hit nothing. It was just one of those days."
Fitch made just 2-of-8 from the field, the first coming on a three-pointer with 7:07 remaining. Smith said he had to remind Fitch not to take his offense to the defensive end.
"He did have an off night," Smith said of Fitch. "But he did things in other areas to help us. I told him, don't let your offense dictate your play."
Even with a bit of a sloppy performance, UK started its 101st season of basketball off right. At the very least, the Cats left their defensive calling card at the scene of another mugging.
Kelenna Azubuike slices to the basket
Chuck Hayes defends against Winthrop's Billy Houston