- Saturday, February 21 2004 -
Kentucky - 68 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 9th by AP and 9th by ESPN/USA Today]
Auburn - 59 (Head Coach: Cliff Ellis) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Auburn 34, Kentucky 33
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|Arkansas 73 - 56|||||Tennessee 92 - 60|
Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Seniors come up big in UK victory
As has become Kentucky's method of operation this season, the Cats found themselves in the familiar position of being in a dogfight with just minutes remaining against Auburn.
Like it has almost every time it has been in the sticky situation, UK's experience won out, lifting the Cats to a 68-59 victory over the Tigers. The Cats raised their record to 19-4 overall and 9-3 in the Southeastern Conference, maintaining their Eastern Division lead over South Carolina.
Despite an awful start that saw UK fail to make a field goal attempt in the game's first 7:40, the Cats' defense kept them in the game. While UK was shooting blanks, the Tigers were slow to score as well and UK never fell behind by more than eight points at 14-6.
The Cats battled back through much of the first half, using Gerald Fitch's breakout in just his second game back from a sprained finger ligament on his shooting hand to claw within 34-33 at the break. Fitch buried back-to-back three-pointers in the final three minutes of the half to stay in the game.
"We weren't executing well," senior Erik Daniels said of the poor start. "Guys weren't making shots, but we started executing and guys began knocking down those shots."
UK assistant coach David Hobbs said looking up to see they were down just a few points after such a rough start helped juice up the team.
"What happened was we got a bad start, turned the ball over a few times and had point blank shots we didn't get down," Hobbs said. "WE hung in there on defense and looked up and weren't but one or two baskets down. We came on from there."
UK was on the verge of finding itself in a huge hole out of halftime, as Auburn scored four quick points off UK miscues. But Daniels took control after Cliff Hawkins picked up his third foul just seconds into the half, scoring seven consecutive UK points , including a rim-rattling dunk that tied to game at 40.
The Cats capped the 11-2 run Daniels started with two Chuck Hayes lay-ins and tow Ravi Moss free throws to go up 46-40 with 13:48 left. As the game bogged down from there, Auburn hung around and tied the game at 49 with 6:46 left on a Quinnel Brown three from the wing.
But just when it looked like UK might fumble away another opportunity on the road, Hawkins and Fitch displayed their experience, scoring nine straight points to put the game away and lift the Cats. Hawkins drilled a pull-up jumper in the lane, then watched as Fitch hit a fade away jumper and swished a three-pointer to give the Cats a 64-55 lead with less than a minute left.
"Gerald made some big plays," Hobbs said. "He certainly made some big shots today."
Fitch finished with 18 points and six rebounds off the bench for UK, while Daniels added 15 points, five rebounds and three assists. Ian Young led Auburn with 13 points, while the Cats held Marco Killingsworth to eight points and eight rebounds.
Ravi Moss and Chuck Hayes sandwich Auburn's Brandon Robinson on his shot attempt
Chuck Hayes shoots