Vaught's Views: Kentucky answers all questions against IU

December 21, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS - Remember a few days ago when Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said that his team needed to improve on every aspect of its game?

Either the Wildcats made miraculous improvement or Indiana might be the worst team UK has played this season because Kentucky dismantled the Hoosiers 80-41 Saturday.

Kentucky (6-0) certainly played like the nation's top-rated team, a spot the Cats took over in the coaches' poll this week. UK dominated the inside, ran its fast break almost at will and took the Hoosiers out of any type of team offense.

"We thought it would be a much closer, tougher game," said Kentucky sophomore Kelenna Azubuike. "We didn't expect to win the game like this."


Kentucky came into this season with so many questions. Who would replace Marquis Estill inside? Who would provide the scoring Keith Bogans did last year? Where would the depth come from?

So far, the Cats have had more than enough answers for every question and have shown they can be a legitimate national title contender.

Erik Daniels might not have Estill's size, but he certainly has more than held his own, especially offensively. He did again Saturday with 19 points and 10 rebounds, the first double-double of his career. He got the ball inside the paint 13 times and eight of those times he scored.

Teammate Chuck Hayes has been just as dependable. He got the ball in the paint 15 times and scored eight times. Hayes finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth straight game with 10 or more rebounds.

"Erik obviously had another great game, and so did Chuck," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "Once they realized they were going to play behind them and didn't have any shot blockers, they really attacked the basket."

The scoring? Leading scorer Gerald Fitch was held to six points, but he only took six shots because UK got the ball inside so easily. Azubuike had 11 points and point guard Cliff Hawkins 10 as balanced scoring was again UK's key to success. Indiana had just two players - Bracey Wright (23 points) and Sean Kline (15 points) - make more than one shot. The rest of the team was a combined 1-for-28 from the field and only two other players even scored.

Indiana shot 24.2 percent (15-for-62) from the field, a stat that even made Smith smile.

"I am satisfied with that," Smith said. "I was very impressed with our defense. We really got our hands on a lot of balls. We had about 50 deflections. That tells me they understand and appreciate defense."

The depth? Quit worrying about it. Kentucky has a basic seven-player rotation - five starters along with Antwain Barbour and Lukasz Obrzut. If the Cats avoid injuries or consistent foul trouble, that might be enough players for Smith to use and work his magic.

"All I know is that we go out there and play," Hawkins said. "But everybody likes to play. No one is going to complain about playing too much, but if we need to sit down to make the team better, we'll do that."

Kentucky did appear to tire late in the first half Saturday, but UK re-energized at halftime and had a 24-6 run in just over seven minutes to completely put the game out of reach.

Perhaps Smith's halftime talk had as much to do with that as anything. Thirteen first-half turnovers and getting beat to several loose balls had Smith more than a little grumpy at halftime.

"The first half we were getting outhustled," Smith said. "We came back the second half with a different attitude, a better effort.

"I just told them at halftime that we had to play a lot harder. It was not those exact words, but something similar. We should have had a comfortable lead."

Not that a 32-26 lead was all that uncomfortable considering Indiana's lack of offense. Indiana coach Mike Davis, who had a meltdown at the end of last year's loss to Kentucky when he was ejected from the game, couldn't even talk about this loss. Nearly an hour after the game ended, he finally sent an assistant coach to the media room. Davis didn't come because he was talking to his team and "trying to teach them about a work ethic."

Smith said the lopsided score simply was a case of Kentucky's edge in experience paying off in another high-profile game.

"When you get in a game like this where it is a big rivalry, you could see that experience took over," Smith said. "That's just the difference in a game like this."

And could be the difference in considering what some thought might be a questionable season for the Cats into a banner year.

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