Tubby rips into Wildcats

December 09, 2004|MIKE MARSEE

LEXINGTON - It's a long walk from the Rupp Arena court to the Kentucky locker room, even longer when you know there's an angry coach coming right behind you.

That's what Patrick Sparks and his Kentucky teammates faced Tuesday night after they allowed Morehead State to climb back into a game they should have been dominated.

And that might be why they made things so tough on Morehead in the second half.

"It was a long walk," Sparks said. "We went in there and took it, and we came out in the second half and responded to it."

The response came in the form of a 20-0 run that allowed the Wildcats to put Morehead away once and for all.


Sparks played a big part in that run - part of a larger 23-0 run that included the last three points of the first half and was the Wildcats' largest scoring spurt of the season. The junior guard played the point during that period, pushing the ball up the floor in transition and contributing eight points and one assist.

He also had three steals, equaling his total in his first five games, and he said good defensive play ignited the Wildcats in the second half.

"Our defense made our offense a lot easier in the second half," Sparks said. "That's what we came out wanting to do, and we did it."

"You try to force your tempo on your opponent, and we had that," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "We had a spurt; we made shots."

Morehead had cut a 24-8 deficit to three points late in the first half, and Kentucky led by just six at halftime. But the Wildcats went 6-for-10 in the first 5:04 of the second half as they extended their lead to 49-23.

Sparks' contributions included a pair of 3-point goals and a crisp pass into the lane to Randolph Morris, who drove for a dunk. And Kelenna Azubuike scored nine of his game-high 21 points during the run, seven of them in the first 3:45 of the half.

"Kelenna got us going, Patrick got us going, making some open shots and pushing the ball in transition," Smith said.

Sparks, Azubuike key later run, too

Sparks and Azubuike were the key players in another run later in the second half. Sparks had four assists and Azubuike had eight points during a 14-2 run that left Kentucky with a 65-32 lead.

Sparks' final line was 10 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals. And he didn't have a single turnover in 23 minutes, his first turnover-free game as a Wildcat.

Azubuike logged his third straight game with at least 20 points after scoring 19 in the second half, and Sparks had eight points and five assists after halftime.

They said they and their teammates were motivated by what Smith had to say at halftime - and the way he said it.

"He was mad; that's the understatement of the year," Azubuike said. "He got on us pretty good, rightfully so, I think. We just tried to respond the best way we could."

"Coach got us going in the second half, and we came out defensively and did a lot of good things," Sparks said.

Sparks said the Wildcats' first-half malaise wasn't a side effect of their loss Saturday at North Carolina.

"We definitely put that behind us, but we have to come out with a better effort than we did the first half, especially in front of our home fans. It was kind of disappointing.

"We definitely can't fall into that. We've got to play with the type of intensity we came out with in the first and second half. But we're learning."

Sparks said the Wildcats' seamless second-half play should carry over to what figures to be a more challenging game Saturday against Indiana.

"I think so," he said. "I think we held them to 20 percent shooting. If we can do that against Indiana we'll be OK."

At the very least, they'll save themselves another tongue-lashing from Smith.

"We need to keep those speeches to a minimum if we can," Azubuike said.

Notes: Stanford native Jonathan True went scoreless in his first appearance at Rupp Arena, missing all four of his field-goal attempts. He had three rebounds, and he blocked a shot by Kentucky's Chuck Hayes 25 seconds into the second half. ... Kentucky has won 17 straight games that have followed a loss, a streak dating to the 2001-02 season.

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