Winthrop no match for UK's defense

November 23, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

LEXINGTON - There were times last season when Kentucky's defense was so oppressive it must have seemed to opponents as if the Wildcats were playing six on five.

When Winthrop tried to work its way through that defense Friday, it was more like seven on five.

The Eagles had tried it against six men, using an extra defender in practice last week, but even that wasn't enough to prepare them for they kind of pressure Kentucky displayed in its season-opening 65-44 win at Rupp Arena.

"You've got to take that as a compliment," Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes said. "For the other team to be that much focused on your defense shows some kind of respect."

It was clear Friday night that the Wildcats' defense will command respect once again this season. They forced 29 turnovers and held Winthrop to a shooting mark of less than 30 percent from the field.


"If there's one thing we work on every day, it's our defense," guard Brandon Stockton said. "I think when we get after anybody, it might seem like there are six guys out there."

Winthrop would have been ready for that.

"We had a sixth defender on the court in practice (Wednesday) before we left to come up here, and we turned the ball over," Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall said. "So we simulated it to a degree."

But Marshall said the Eagles' extra man couldn't replicate the way Kentucky goes after the ball.

"They get out in the passing lanes, they guard you so hard off the dribble," he said. "They make every pass an adventure."

Kentucky guard Cliff Hawkins said that's exactly as it should be.

"That's what we want to do. We want to get after people and put pressure on them," Hawkins said.

That sounds a lot like the way things were last season, when defense was so critical to the Wildcats' success, especially on nights like this when things weren't going so well on the other end of the floor.

"If we don't come up with a great defensive effort tonight, then they come away with a win," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "When we're not shooting the ball well, we do a great job on defense."

The Wildcats did that right from the start, as Winthrop turned the ball over on its first three possessions.

The second half opened much like the first, as the Eagles missed their first five shots and committed six turnovers in the first six minutes during an 11-1 Kentucky run that left them in a 43-22 hole.

"To hold a team like this to 44 points is a tremendous defensive effort," Smith said.

Winthrop shot 29.8 percent from the field, a lower mark than all but one Kentucky opponent last season, and the Eagles' 29 turnovers were more than UK forced in any game last year.

Gerald Fitch had four steals and Hayes had three, but Smith said no one made things tougher on Winthrop than Hawkins, who had two steals and forced several five-second violations.

"He's just relentless," Smith said. "I don't know if there's a better on-ball defender. If there is, I haven't seen him. They just couldn't get into their offense."

Smith said Hawkins and the other veterans on the team have realized the value of good defense.

"We have a lot of returning players that understand that got us to where we were last year," Smith said. "They know that that's going to carry us."

"We're a defensive team first and an offensive team off our defense," Hawkins said.


* UK's 24 turnovers were more than it had in any game last season. Hawkins, who had no turnovers in two exhibitions, had five Friday.

* Kentucky's two 7-foot freshmen centers got off to a rocky start. 7-3 Shagari Alleyne had one point, two rebounds and one blocked shot in 12 minutes, and 7-1 Lukasz Obrzut had two rebounds in nine minutes. Each was 0-for-3 from the field.

* Sophomore guards Kelenna Azubuike, Brandon Stockton and Ravi Moss had career highs in minutes with 25, 15 and 11, respectively. Azubuike had a career-high nine rebounds to go with 11 points in his first career start, Stockton had five points and two assists and Moss had three points and two steals.

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