UK keeps Freije mostly under wraps

January 11, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - For the game's first 28 minutes, Kentucky kept Vanderbilt star Matt Freije from scoring.

The preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year didn't get his first field goal until eight minutes into the second half, and even that came after a loose ball scramble left him with the ball under the basket.

"I was upset he scored," Kentucky senior Erik Daniels said. "I didn't want him to score the whole game. He's a tough guy to defend, but I thought we could stop him."

Daniels usually had the defensive assignment on Freije when he was in the game. The Vanderbilt senior finished the game 6-for-15 from the field and had 13 points, including 11 in the final nine minutes.


"I knew they would come out hard on me," Freije said. "I was trying not to force things. I mainly just missed some shots I should have made."

Freije was able to get off only one shot in the first half when he was limited to just 10 minutes of play after getting two early charging fouls.

"Stopping him was very important," Kentucky's Chuck Hayes said. "Some say he's going to be the SEC player of the year, and when you pretty much control the league's best player, it gives you a lot better chance to win.

"He's a good outside shooter. We wanted to crowd him and make him put the ball on the ground and drive. We were pretty successful at doing that most of the game."

Kentucky guard Gerald Fitch said the game plan for Freije was simple.

"We just wanted to make him have to make tough shots," Fitch said. "He didn't have the game he normally does. We didn't let him beat us."

"We wanted to get him out of control and rotate over to take a charge," Smith said. "We did a good job of that in the first half."

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings credited Daniels for stopping Freije, especially in the first half.

"He just guarded him really well," Stallings said. "Daniels is a good player and just played him tough. I'm sure Matt's disappointed, but they just did a good job of guarding him. He got a little impatient, but that's his responsibility to make things happen when things are going bad for us. It just didn't work tonight."

Daniels said he was eager to test his defensive skills against Freije.

"I look forward to guarding the best players," said Daniels, who had 16 points and seven rebounds. "It's a challenge that brings out the best in me."

That included a stretch to open the game in which Daniels was involved in all 15 points as UK opened a 15-3 lead in the first eight minutes. He had three field goals and four assists.

"I knew getting off fast was important and it just seemed like everything I was doing on both ends of the court was working," Daniels said.

Change: Smith sent backup point guard Brandon Stockton to check in for the start of the second half in place of Cliff Hawkins, but then changed his mind and went with Hawkins.

Hawkins had one of his four steals in the first minute of the second half. He had committed four turnovers in the first half to draw Smith's ire.

"I was just making sure he knew we needed him to be a leader," Smith said when asked if he was close to benching Hawkins in favor of Stockton. "I wanted to make sure he knew what we want out of him. I was trying to get him to understand what we need, and he did. He responded the right way."

Hawkins had another steal late in the game that led to a key 3-pointer by Fitch.

"Cliff Hawkins is a great defensive player," Stallings said. "I don't think there is any question about that. He's one of the few guys that is not a shot blocker that can impact a basketball game very significantly on the defensive end."

Hawkins finished with 12 points, including eight the second half, but also made four more turnovers in the final half.

He was not available for comment after the game.

Numbers: UK has now won 20 straight Southeastern Conference games. ... Kentucky has now held all 11 opponents under 50 percent shooting from the field. ... Kentucky shot over 50 percent for the fifth time this season. ... Bernard Cote had career-highs of seven points and 20 minutes played for UK. ... Fitch tied a career high for assists with six and guard Cliff Hawkins tied career highs for rebounds with seven and turnovers with eight. ... Fitch became the 40th UK player to reach the 1,100-point plateau. He now has 1,115 points. ... Hawkins had three assists to move into ninth place on UK's all-time list with 364. His four steals give him 157, eighth best on Kentucky's career chart. ... Smith made 18 substitutions in the first half, but just 10 in the second half.

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