Vaught's Views: Hawkins picks good time to break slump

January 21, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

KNOXVILLE - Cliff Hawkins was tired of hearing what was wrong with his play.

He knew he had not been playing well in Kentucky's last six games, but that had not shaken his confidence in himself. That's why with Kentucky's season on the brink of collapse, Hawkins took - and made - what may have been the biggest shot of his collegiate career.

Hawkins hit a 3-point shot with 16.3 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 64 and get the Wildcats into overtime against Tennessee here Tuesday night before the ninth-ranked Wildcats (12-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) pulled out a 69-68 win that they desperately needed.

"I had a been struggling lately, but what better way to end my so-called slump than by jumping up and hitting a shot that let me be the hero for a day," said Hawkins, who is known more for his defense and ability to drive inside the lane than for his perimeter shooting.


Kentucky was 1-for-17 from 3-point range when Hawkins brought the ball up court with UK trailing 64-61. Even though Gerald Fitch was just 1-for-11 from the field at the time, he seemed the logical choice to take a shot UK needed because of his past success in similar situations.

Instead, Hawkins never gave Tennessee a chance to commit a sixth foul that would have made the Cats take the ball back out of bounds. He saw his defender back off him when he got a screen from teammate Chuck Hayes and immediately launched his 3-point shot.

"I was open and just took the shot," Hawkins said. "I gave myself a little pep talk as I was bringing the ball up the court. That helped me. I knew if I tried to pass the ball to Gerald, they might foul him to kill some time. Or that if I drove into the lane, they probably would foul me.

"So when I was open, I knew I had to shoot. I also knew it was good as soon as it went up."

It's a feeling he hadn't had in recent games. In the previous six games, he was averaging 7.5 points per game and shooting just 29 percent from the field.

In UK's first seven games, he averaged 11 points per game and shot 50 percent. He also had 22 turnovers to more than offset 21 assists the past six games and had even looked slow on defense at times.

But the old Cliff Hawkins showed back up for Kentucky in Knoxville. He was aggressive on both ends. He was assertive with teammates. He shot with confidence.

Hawkins finished with 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting, six rebounds, six assists, three steals and three turnovers in 37 minutes of play.

"We pressed more and pushed the ball more. That's his game. We played a style that allowed him to be more successful," UK assistant coach David Hobbs said.

"I know I've not played well, but my confidence is fine. I just hate losing and when I make mistakes that hurt the team, it bothers me," Hawkins said. "But I know I can play and taking that shot didn't bother me. I knew I could hit it."

Still, that was not exactly what Kentucky coach Tubby Smith might have envisioned on that crucial play.

"It was not a called play. We might say it was now, but it wasn't," Hobbs said. "I'm just happy it went in."

Hawkins sometimes lets his emotions get best of him

Smith had lamented Monday that Hawkins sometimes lets his emotions get the best of him and that when things are not going right, he goes into a funk that hurts his overall play.

"Cliff can be too hard on himself, especially when he's not playing well," said Kentucky junior Chuck Hayes, who had a monstrous game with 18 points, 16 rebounds, two steals, two assists and two blocked shots in 42 minutes. "He's a competitive person. He's the type of player who feels when he has he ball, he should be able to make something happen. That's how he pushes himself and tonight it paid off."

Smith never thought of reducing Hawkins' playing time despite his recent struggles.

The coach wasn't annoyed when Hawkins kept denying that he was in a slump.

"Nobody wants to be asked why they are playing bad," Smith said. "If you are an athlete, the only attitude you can have is that you are a better shooter and player than what you are showing."

The Wildcats certainly were showing they could be a far better team than the one that lost to Georgia in Rupp Arena Saturday to end their 21-game Southeastern Conference win streak.

They built a 45-30 lead with 17 minutes, 42 seconds to play, but then, as they have often this year, the Cats stumbled and let a game they had put away turn into an adventure.

Remember it took a lucky bounce on the final play one week earlier for UK to escape with a one-point win at Mississippi State.

This time UK had to survive a missed baseline jump shot by Tennessee's Scooter McFadgon at the end of regulation and two misses by the Vols in the final seconds of overtime to prevail.

"Maybe we just have an angel watching over us or something," Fitch said.

How else to explain how Hawkins hit his 3-pointer to end regulation and Erik Daniels made one to start overtime after the Cats had missed 16 of their 17 previous 3-pointers?

"If I had known that, I might have been nervous," Hawkins said.

"I'm just glad I finally did something to help us win and maybe now everybody will quit talking about my so-called slump. It's finished."

Just like Tennessee was because of Hawkins' unlikely 3-pointer.

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