Wildcats never could solve questions about depth

March 22, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Depth was perhaps Kentucky's biggest question mark going into the season and was a problem that the Wildcats never solved.

Kentucky's lack of depth could have been the determining factor in its season-ending 76-75 loss to Alabama-Birmingham in the NCAA Tournament Sunday.

The Blazers got 28 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in 75 minutes of play from their reserves while the Wildcats managed 19 points, five rebounds and no assists in 42 minutes of bench play.

"We played nine or 10 guys opposed to them playing five or six," UAB coach Mike Anderson said. "They had guys out there who had to play extended minutes and you could see the wear and tear."


Anderson said he thought he could see UK point guard Cliff Hawkins tire. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said that may have been due to a back injury that Hawkins suffered Friday. Whatever the reason, Hawkins was limited to 26 minutes and had four turnovers.

"We had great, great bench play," Anderson said. "I think our pressure was the biggest difference in the game because we always had people coming after them."

"We were just very lethargic," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "They make you exert a lot of energy because they are always attacking offensively. They're always trapping, and that takes a lot of energy."

The Blazers could sense that their relentless pressure was bothering Kentucky from the outset.

"We didn't play a perfect game, but you could sense that we got to them," said UAB reserve Donell Taylor, who had 13 points. "We wanted to keep the pressure on them, and we did."

"We had a deeper team and knew that could help us win," said UAB reserve Tony Johnson, who had four points and two assists. "We played our style. We took them out of their comfort zone and they didn't like that."

"They were frustrated the whole game," UAB starting guard Carldell Johnson said. "We knew they didn't have a deep bench. They had one guy (Ravi Moss) hit a couple of big 3s, but we knew their bench really couldn't stay with ours."

Hawkins reluctantly admitted that UAB's pressure did bother him.

"They did a great job pressuring the ball," said Hawkins, who had nine points and two assists. "They denied passes. I had two guys on me a lot. They were really wearing me out."

Yet Smith had few options to use. He played Moss, a sophomore walk-on, nine minutes the second half and he was 2-for-2 from 3-point range to spark an 11-0 run. Antwain Barbour, UK's sixth man, had 11 points and two rebounds in 26 minutes.

However, no one else played more than two minutes because UAB led almost the entire game and Smith didn't feel he could chance keeping his starters out except when Chuck Hayes and Erik Daniels were in foul trouble. Kelenna Azubuike played 37 minutes, Gerald Fitch 38 and Hayes 33. UAB had nine players play between 10 and 35 minutes.

"Our depth gave us some concerns all year," Smith said.

"I think we hung around and hung around when we weren't expected to win and that put a little pressure on Kentucky," Anderson said.

The Blazers also kept UK from getting the ball inside consistently. Daniels was 5-for-6 from the field, but got only two shots the second half. Hayes was 2-for-4 from the field, but had just one shot the first half.

"I thought we had them when we took a six-point (69-63) lead," Daniels said. "But we just did not put them away. We didn't get many shots inside. We just did not execute when it counted the most. We made turnovers and way too many mistakes.

"We had all the ingredients to get to San Antonio (for the Final Four), but now it is over. I guess that's how it goes.

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