Vaught's Views: Moss, Cote come up big for Cats

January 04, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - As the final six seconds ticked off the clock, Ravi Moss just held the basketball in his hands as the applause spread through Rupp Arena.

The University of Kentucky fans were celebrating a 61-56 victory over No. 9 North Carolina here Saturday, but they just as easily could have been applauding Moss' play off the bench that may have helped save UK's season.

Moss and Bernard Cote, a pair of relatively unknown sophomores, finally provided UK coach Tubby Smith with the energy, emotion and consistent play he had been seeking from his bench. The Cats needed all their help, too, after missing 20 of their final 24 shots in a 20-point first half in which they turned a 10-2 lead into a 28-20 halftime deficit.

This was the same way Kentucky had fizzled a week earlier when it lost a 24-10 first-half lead against Louisville and fell 65-56. The Cats had another second-half collapse Wednesday when they barely held on to beat Austin Peay 61-53.


It looked like the Cats were going to fold again and perhaps take a psychological hit that might have a season-long impact. Losing a second straight home game would have sent UK out of the top 10 in the national rankings and certainly would have lowered the team's seed in the NCAA Tournament. More importantly, it might not only have made the Cats question their own ability, but also give future Southeastern Conference opponents hope that they could also beat Kentucky.

That's when Moss, a walk-on forward, and Cote, who almost had to redshirt this season after missing six months of off-season workouts because of a back injury, gave Smith's team the help it needed.

Moss had watched the first half. He finally got a chance to play just over six minutes into the second half and played so well that he got 10 minutes, 15 seconds of playing time. He was 2-for-2 from the field as he scored twice on cuts to the basket, including once off a nifty pass inside the lane from Cote. He also had two rebounds, including one that led to a basket by Erik Daniels, and one assist. He also did not have a turnover.

Cote played eight minutes the first half and nine the second half. He didn't score, but he had two rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot and made his presence known in the post. He also did not turn the ball over. Perhaps his most important contributions, though, were the screens he set that helped get Gerald Fitch free for shots in the second half. Fitch had 15 of his 21 points the second half.

"Ravi just plays with great heart and hustle," said Smith. "He gave us energy and enthusiasm. I've been looking for that. Bernard just played relaxed and did what we asked him to do."

Perhaps that sounds simple, but it has been way too complicated for UK's Antwain Barbour, a senior, and Lukasz Obrzut, a freshman. They have been Smith's top two reserves, but that should change now.

Barbour was 0-for-2 from the field and again looked tentative on offense. He had no rebounds, one assist and three turnovers in 10 minutes. Obrzut had all zeroes in his statistical line in just one minute of play.

Both Moss and Cote said it was easy for them to produce when given the opportunity.

"If you miss your assignment, coach Smith is going to yell," Cote said. "If you do your job, you get to play."

"Coach Smith expects me to go in and play defense," Moss said. "He wants me to provide energy. If I get in, which is rare, I know I have to be physical and stop my man from scoring. There's no pressure on me. I'm not a scorer. I don't think. I just go play."

Barbour, and other UK reserves, should try doing the same thing instead of apparently either failing to understand their roles or being unwilling to fill that role.

"Ravi is aggressive. He's physical and that's what I've been wanting other guys to do," Smiths said. "I'm going to play guys who do that. It's just a plus when he scores. He also takes care of the basketball and does not turn it over. You are going to see a lot more of Ravi Moss."

The same should be true for Cote.

Moss had played two forgettable minutes against Austin Peay when he missed the only shot he took. Cote had four minutes in the same game and was 1-for-2 from the field. Of course, at least they did play - something they did not do in the Dec. 27 loss to Louisville.

Yet twice late in Saturday's game, there were Moss and Cote receiving standing ovations from the Rupp Arena crowd for their play and they should have for helping win a game that UK could easily have lost.

"You just never know when your chance will come," Cote said. "Once it does, it's up to you to do something with it."

Which is exactly what Moss and Cote both did Saturday when they went from forgotten players to needed stars in their own unique ways.

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