Vaught's Views: Hayes more than just 'all right'

February 09, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Perhaps what makes Chuck Hayes so good, and so valuable, is that no matter how well he does, he's never satisfied.

Hayes had 15 points and 11 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season, Saturday to help No. 9 Kentucky hold off No. 25 South Carolina 65-64.

As usual, he did a little bit of everything for the Wildcats. He was strong on defense (two blocked shots, seven defensive rebounds). His passing was solid (three assists, one turnover). He took good shots (4-for-7 from the field) and made free throws (6-for-6). He played a team-high 37 minutes.

No wonder South Carolina coach Dave Odom called the undersized Hayes the "steadiest post player" in the Southeastern Conference after the game.


"I think I did all right," Hayes said.

All right?

"I know what I am capable of," Hayes said. "I did some positive things, but also at times I thought about things too much and didn't do some things right. That's why my play was only all right. It could have been a lot better."

If his play was all right, then this was just an average game instead of a tense defensive struggle between two teams playing for the SEC Eastern Division lead.

Hayes, not known for his outside shooting, hit his first 3-pointer since the season opener midway through the first half. He added another 15-foot jump shot and then hit the biggest outside shot of his UK career when he made another 15-footer to tie the game 57-57 with 4 minutes, 56 seconds to play.

He forced a South Carolina turnover with his defensive pressure and the game tied at 59-all. He got a defensive rebound with UK trailing 60-59. More importantly, his leadership always helped the Wildcats maintain their poise and win a game without their leading scorer, Gerald Fitch, who was out with a finger injury.

When he has a double-double, Cats always win

Hayes now has 11 double-doubles in his career, and it's no coincidence UK is 11-0 in those games.

"He's just a warrior. That's all you can say," Kentucky guard Cliff Hawkins said. "Without him, we are in trouble. He brings energy and toughness that we need. He also works harder than anybody else around the basket. Other teams must hate playing against him."

They'll hate it even more if Hayes starts hitting outside shots. He's always claimed he could make them, but he's seldom gone outside to try because he knows Kentucky needs him inside. With Fitch, UK's most productive 3-point shooter out, Hayes knew South Carolina might dare him to shoot.

"There were some holes in their defense," Hayes said. "If you have got open shots, you have to knock them down. I just caught the ball in rhythm and shot it with power and confidence."

"We've really worked with Chuck on his shooting," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "We've harped on him to focus on the rim. You could see he was gaining confidence, and we tried to run a play for him.

"He's such an unselfish player and does everything well. When you add the ability to make the outside shot, it just makes him even better."

Hayes knows adding range to his game would make him an even better player. But he'll take a win and gladly bang against bigger players inside rather than worry about showcasing his perimeter skills.

"I just let the game come to me," Hayes said. "I don't force things."

Wrong. He does force action when it comes to rebounding. Kentucky won the rebounding battle 41-26 and got 17 offensive rebounds, including four by Hayes, and 14 second-chance points.

Smith felt that was one of the keys to the game. So did Odom, who said his team was "annihilated" on the boards.

Yet South Carolina easily could have won this game. Smith prides himself on his team's defensive ability, but he readily admitted that South Carolina's quick defense "scared" him, especially with Fitch watching and backup point guard Brandon Stockton also out because of illness.

UK could have folded several times

The game had 13 lead changes, including 11 in the second half. The Cats could easily have folded several times.

However, no matter how many faults the Cats might have, they once again did what they do best - found a way to win. They did the same thing Tuesday at Florida when they rallied in the final five minutes to win 68-65.

Kentucky has now won nine games by eight or fewer points, including four SEC games by three or fewer points. Some might call that luck. The Wildcats prefer to credit poise and experience.

"We need to get ready for the postseason because the games there definitely will not be easy," Hayes said. "We got a big win at Florida. Now we got a big win against a good team here without our go-to guy (Fitch). This can only add to our confidence."

It should, but nothing should help Kentucky's confidence more than knowing it has Hayes, a player who always thinks he should have done better and values winning far more than any number he'll ever post.

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