Vaught's Views: Ten reasons UK could win title

March 18, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Ten reasons why Kentucky could easily cut down the nets in San Antonio April 5 after winning the national championship.

1. Tubby, Tubby, Tubby.

Coach Tubby Smith is 23-9 in NCAA Tournament play and his 71.9 winning percentage ranks as the fifth-best among active coaches. His 10 straight NCAA tourney appearances is the fourth-best mark among active coaches.

Want more? Smith is one of only six coaches who have taken three different teams to the Sweet Sixteen. He's also 16-6 in overtime games during his career and he's 31-19 at Kentucky in games decided by five points or less, including a perfect 7-0 this season.

2. Cliff Hawkins.

The senior point guard is playing his most consistent basketball. He's seventh on UK's all-time assists list and third on the career steals chart while on pace to break Wayne Turner's single-season steals record. He's also been making shots, which makes the Cats almost unbeatable.


3. Defense.

No team has shot 50 percent from the field against the Cats this season and 14 teams this season have not managed to shoot even 40 percent from the field against UK.

4. Tournament experience.

The Cats reached the regional final in last year's NCAA Tournament and were perhaps only a healthy Keith Bogans away from reaching the Final Four.

UK's 1998 national championship team lost in the NCAA title game a year earlier. UK's 1996 national championship team lost in the regional final a year earlier. Don't discount last year's tournament experience.

5. Experience.

Kentucky has four seniors among its top six players. With the way players leave early for the NBA, or just leave to look for more playing time at another school, it's rare to have a team with so much game experience. The Wildcats have won 104 games the last four years and know how to win, a must at tournament time.

6. Sheray Thomas.

The freshman is not a star, but he's given UK a dependable inside presence when Chuck Hayes or Erik Daniels get in foul trouble or need a rest.

7. Daniels and Hayes.

See today's story about why they really are Double Trouble for UK opponents.

8. Home court.

Does anyone really think UK fans won't dominate the seating in Columbus and St. Louis to turn both arenas into a big home-court advantage for the Cats?

9. Ashley Judd.

The Cats are unbeaten since Ash Wednesday - the day the actress came to see UK win at South Carolina. She's not likely to miss another game and that usually means good luck for the Cats.

10. History.

In 1998, UK lost at home to Louisville, lost its final game on Feb. 14, had a key player get hurt and won the SEC Tournament in Atlanta before going to San Antonio to win Smith's first national title. All that is left for this team to complete the repeat is to win in San Antonio.

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