Second half surge lifts Wildcats to easy exhibition win

November 13, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - The last place anyone would have expected to find EA Sports coach Mazz Trakh at halftime was in the media room at Rupp Arena.

His team had outscored host Kentucky 14-6 the final six minutes of the first half and trailed only 38-37 at halftime of the exhibition game here Wednesday. Yet there was Trakh getting a soft drink and joking with several media members.

"Our players have already earned a $50 bonus for keeping the game within five points at halftime," Trakh said. "It was an entertaining half. There wasn't much for us to talk about. That's about as well as we can play."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith apparently had a little more to say to his team - and he didn't have time for any media room visit.


"The halftime talk always works," Kentucky guard Gerald Fitch said. "We came out a little flat in the first half, but we straightened it out in the second half."

Did they ever!

The Wildcats outscored EA Sports 20-0 in a four-minute spurt that led to a convincing 94-61 victory.

Best in the spurt

The Cats were at their best in the spurt. They created the offense with an inspired defense and used their speed to outrun EA Sports. The spurt featured steals by Chuck Hayes and Cliff Hawkins. It had fast break baskets by Kelenna Azubuike, Hawkins and Hayes. It had nifty passes by Hawkins.

The beat play may have been when Hawkins got a steal, dribbled behind his back and passed to Hayes who feed a streaking Azubuike for an easy hoop.

"I really thought they picked it up in the second half," Trakh said. "In the first half they weren't into it as much as they were in the second half. Their pressure just got to be too much for us. They just got after it in the second half and put it on us."

Smith praised EA Sports for being able to control the tempo in the first half when it spread the floor and often beat UK defenders to the basket. The second half the Cats increased their defensive pressure and EA Sports had no answer.

"We gave up too many easy baskets at the end of the first half," Hawkins said.

"Our defense really picked up in the second half and that led to some easy points," Azubuike said. "Then the crowd got behind us and really helped us get going."

Kentucky was only 16-for-41 from the field in the first half and just 1-for-9 from 3-point range. The second half the Cats were 24-for-42 overall and 7-for-14 from 3-point range. They also held EA Sports to 33 percent shooting from the field in the second half after it shot 50 percent the first half.

"Just like always, we picked up our defense, contested shots and got steals. That's what does it," Fitch said.

Scoring balance helps, too. Fitch led the way with 22 points. Daniels had 21 points and also pulled off 14 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end. Azubuike made a strong case for staying in the starting lineup when Antwain Barbour comes off suspension by scoring 21 points on 10-for-18 shooting.

"Kelenna could have had another 10 points if he had not missed some lay-ups," Smith said. "But he does cut hard to the basket and he's strong enough to make it if he does get bumped."

Twenty-three assists and just eight turnovers

Hayes had 10 points and Hawkins more than compensated for only scoring four points by handing out seven assists and not making a turnover. Hawkins' play was the biggest reason Kentucky had 23 assists and just eight turnovers, two statistics that did make Smith smile.

Smith was also impressed that his team didn't just keep firing away from long range when shots weren't falling, something the Cats would have done two years ago or maybe even early last season. This time Kentucky went inside to score and depended on its defense to create easy scoring chances.

"We have the ability when we are not clicking in one area, like tonight when we were not making many outside shots, to have the presence to go inside and also create offense with our defense," Smith said.

The Cats also got another solid performance from 7-3 freshman Shagari Alleyne, who continues to look like a player who could be a major contributor to any NCAA Tournament success the Cats might have. He played almost 18 minutes and had two blocked shots and seven rebounds, including six on the defensive end. He was just 1-for-3 from the field, but Kentucky needs him to rebound and block shots, not score.

UK's other freshman center, Lukasz Obrzut, played 10 minutes and got two rebounds and two assists.

"They played against a very good big man tonight in Paul Shirley and did a great job on him," Trakh said. "Paul will play in the NBA again some day. If they can play that well against him, they're going to help this team because I don't think they'll see a big man in the SEC that's as good as Paul Shirley."

If he's right, there still won't likely be any other coaches in the media room at halftime looking for soft drinks and conversations. But there may well be many who wish they could because if Alleyne and Obrzut do continue to improve, Smith is going to have a lot of options to give opponents problems.

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