Vaught's Views: Tubby surprises the Cats at halftime

March 19, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The players were expecting the worst from coach Tubby Smith at halftime.

Kentucky had allowed Florida A&M, a No. 16 seed, to score 52 points and shoot 55.3 percent from the field in the first half. Even though the Wildcats scored a season-high 60 points in the first half, they knew there was no way Smith was going to be happy with their first-half defense.

However, rather than explode, Smith stayed calm, made adjustments and his Wildcats played the type of defense he likes the second half to get a 96-76 win Friday in the NCAA Tournament first-round game.

"He didn't have to yell. We knew we hadn't played the kind of defense that we should," Kentucky senior Erik Daniels said. "We knew we had to step up and play better defense."


The Wildcats, now 27-4 going into Sunday's second round game against the Washington-UAB winner, did that. They limited the Rattlers to 9-for-28 shooting from the field in the second half and kept Florida A&M from becoming the first team this year to shoot 50 percent for the game. Florida A&M finished at 45.5 percent (30-for-66).

"I don't think they surprised us with their play. They were just a lot quicker than maybe we thought and they hit some tough shots the first half. Give them some credit, too," Kentucky's Antwain Barbour said.

He's right. The Rattlers hit some spectacular shots the first half, but they also forced a much quicker pace than UK likes. The Cats can talk about they want about being a running team, but the non-stop pace the first half kept them from being able to set their half-court defense.

Of course, UK also was scoring at will. All five starters finished the game in double figures and Gerald Fitch had 20 of his game-high 26 points in the first half.

"The first half was fun, but it would have been more fun if they had not been scoring every time, too," Fitch said. "We are better than that defensively."

Still, Smith didn't yell at halftime.

"It was just a combination of maybe us being a little sluggish and them playing really great," Kentucky assistant Scott Rigot said. "Tubby was under complete control at halftime. He made the adjustments that great coaches make. He pushed the right buttons to get us going defensively."

But Kentucky's lead was only 66-62 with 13 minutes to play. The Cats also had point guard Cliff Hawkins on the bench with three fouls.

The Rattlers rattled Hawkins

Fitch took over the point and played under more control than Hawkins had. For the first time this season, Hawkins got rattled by the Rattlers' aggressive play. He had 14 points, four assists and two steals in 25 minutes, but he also had five turnovers, took several bad shots and exchanged words with A&M players.

"It was probably a good experience for him," UK assistant Dave Hobbs said. "Teams are going to try and do a lot of things to disrupt, or even intimidate, him. They want to get him off his game. He's got to realize that and stay under control.

"I thought he kept his cool for the most part and didn't get caught up too bad in what they were doing. He came right back at his guy several times and still made some big plays."

Smith thought his team may have slightly underestimated Florida A&M, the only team in the NCAA field with a losing record.

"I was wondering the first half if we would ever stop them," Smith said. "I just hoped it wouldn't continue, and it didn't. We settled down and played a lot better the second half."

Fitch said that was what counted. While the 17 turnovers and poor first-half defense were reasons for concern, Fitch noted that the main objective was to win.

"At this time of year, you just want to win and move on. You don't look back. We won and that's all that really matters when it is all said and done," Fitch said. "Whether you play a perfect game or just get lucky, as long as you win it is all the same."

Game notes: Kentucky had not scored 60 points in any half this season before doing it in the first half Friday. ... Fitch's previous best scoring game in NCAA play was 25 points in last year's first round. ... Chuck Hayes had his 13th double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, both NCAA highs. ... Erik Daniels also had a NCAA best with 18 points, the first time he's reached double figures in a tourney game.

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