- Wednesday, March 3 2004 -
Kentucky - 84 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 9th by AP and 9th by ESPN/USA Today]
South Carolina - 65 (Head Coach: Dave Odom) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 38, South Carolina 24
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Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Hawkins steals spotlight, UK rolls 84-65
COLUMBIA, S.C. Ð It was senior night in South Carolina, but a Kentucky senior stole the show, as Cliff Hawkins rang up a career-high 21 points and the Cats ripped Carolina 84-65 in front of the largest crowd to see a game in the state.
Hawkins, who bested his previous high score by drilling a career-best five three-pointers, also dished out 11 assists and had two steals as the Cats ran past the Gamecocks in front of 18,000 fans at the Colonial Center.
"Cliff has been the difference over the last month," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "He has really stepped up his play."
The Cats (22-4, 12-3 SEC) survived the early emotion of Carolina's senior festivities, which led to several big blocks and an early 5-4 lead for the Cocks. Upon weathering the storm, UK ran off a 21-4 spurt behind four Cat triples and five points from freshman Sheray Thomas. One two-minute stretch saw three different Cats nail a shot from beyond the arc.
"That's just how the game was going," Thomas said. "Cliff hit a couple of shots, then Gerald did. When that happens, we can get real deadly."
By halftime, UK had opened up a 14-point lead against a team playing without their top post presence in Rolando Howell. With the Cats pressuring the perimeter, South Carolina (21-8, 8-7) struggled to a 31 percent clip from the field, including 2-of-11 from long range.
The onslaught didn't slow down in the second half. After the Gamecocks hit three open three-pointers sandwiched around a Hawkins' trey, the lead was still 14 with 15:57 remaining.
The next four minutes might have been the best UK has put together all season long, as a 15-0 run ensued and upped the lead to a shocking 62-33 edge before a hushed crowd.
During the spurt, Hawkins hit a three from the wing, Gerald Fitch swished two of his own and Erik Daniels scored two lay-ins on in transition.
"It could have been," Smith said of UK playing its best. "We were right there. Not taking anything away (from Carolina) or being derogatory. Look at free throw shooting. The times we had ill-advised passing. When we had it going it was as well as we played all year long. Looked as good as we've looked all year long."
Hawkins had it going on from the get-go, nailing everything he tossed up while still getting his teammates involved with the 11 assists. Hawkins finished by hitting 7-of-12 shots and 5-of-7 from three-point range. The Cats hit 13-of-22 overall from beyond the arc, the most they've made in the past two seasons.
"I got a little rhythm going," Hawkins said. "They left me open for two early and I felt good and didn't hesitate. I told them to call me ÔD.O.C'. You know what that means? Dead on Catch."
Fitch, who scored 16 points off the bench and hit all four of his threes, said he encouraged Hawkins to keep shooting.
"He had that extra confidence," Fitch said. "When he can shoot like that, with that extra swaggerÉI told him to call his number even more. He got his swagger back."
So have the Cats, ripping off their fifth straight win, four of which have been by double digits. UK might just be peaking at the right time.
"I was really pleased with the way we played, shot the ball and defended," Smith said. "(Defense) has been the common denominator all year."
Defense and a lights out shooting performance combined to upstage Senior Night in Columbia.
Kelenna Azubuike defends while Cliff Hawkins tries to intercept USC's Renaldo Balkman's pass
Chuck Hayes scores inside against Kerbrell Brown