Vaught's Views: Wildcats pass test against IU

December 12, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LOUISVILLE - Because he felt that his team had failed its first big test a week earlier at North Carolina, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith had a simple pregame message Saturday.

"Tubby told the team before the game that we needed some guys to ace this test," Kentucky assistant coach David Hobbs said.

Smith got his wish, as not only did he have players ace the test, but his team did, too. Kentucky broke open a close game in the second half and, as usual, beat Indiana 73-58 in Freedom Hall.

"Today we were close to finding out who we are," Smith said. "I thought we made a statement today with our defense. We just played a lot better."


The Wildcats had no choice, because the coach was certainly ready for a better performance. He was much more animated on the sideline than normal. He slammed the scorer's table. He even almost fell when he ran in front of the bench in mock disbelief after a non-call by the officials.

"I've been here three years. Nothing he does surprises me," Kentucky's Kelenna Azubuike said. "He knows how to get his team ready and you could tell he really wanted to win this game."

A team effort

Kentucky did win because it got a team effort. Indiana had the game's star player in guard Bracey Wright, who had 31 points. However, while he had nine field goals, the rest of his teammates managed just 10 more.

The Wildcats relied on a more balanced effort that produced plenty of stars. Perhaps the biggest star was 7-3 sophomore center Shagari Alleyne, who continues to amaze everyone with the progress he's made since last year. He had 10 points, five rebounds and four blocked shots in 21 minutes.

He altered numerous shots and made it impossible for the Hoosiers to think about scoring inside when he was in the game. Freshman center Randolph Morris also did his part with 11 points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in 19 minutes.

Combined, the two had 21 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots.

"Shagari has been playing consistently well and Randolph is just now adapting to the system and finally getting used to the college game," Kentucky senior Chuck Hayes said.

But the two centers also had plenty of help from expected, and unexpected, sources.

The expected help came from Patrick Sparks (16 points, six assists, two steals) and Hayes (14 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one steal).

The unexpected came from senior Josh Carrier. He had five points and one assist, but played so well in the first half that he got to start the second half. The leadership and experience Smith has praised him for since the season started finally showed in the first half when he helped the Cats overcome an early deficit to build a nine-point lead.

Don't overlook Azubuike

However, don't overlook the play of Azubuike, either. Known primarily as a scorer when he came to UK, he went just 2-for-9 from the field. But he compensated for his shooting with five rebounds, four assists, two steals and one blocked shot.

"I just tried to do a lot of different things today. When you are not making shots, you have to do something else to help your team," Azubuike said.

That's a message Smith has been emphasizing to his young players - and probably is why freshman guard Ramel Bradley stayed on the bench until midway of the second half.

"I don't answer questions about his limited play," Smith said. "Other players are playing better."

Bradley certainly should have realized what the coach meant, too, because he got to watch the Cats show signs of becoming a better team.

"We played with a lot more poise and patience than we have," Smith said. "We played a lot smarter. Everybody we had in the game contributed. Everybody stepped up."

They did.

Big advantage in the paint

Kentucky outscored Indiana 38-10 in the paint thanks to Alleyne and Morris.

"We thought we could get inside. We changed our alignment and kept our big guys closer to the basket," Smith said.

"Their inside play was too much," said Indiana coach Mike Davis, who found no way to stop Kentucky again. "I think they overwhelmed us. Our defense has been the strongest thing on our basketball team and they walked out and shot 49 percent."

The Cats passed the ball extremely well and were credited with assists on 17 of their 25 field goals. They kept their poise late and put the game away by making 13 of their last 14 free throws. They also took care of the ball, thanks to "smarter play," and had a season-low 11 turnovers.

Kentucky assistant coach Reggie Hanson said this is the kind of game Kentucky can build on before it returns to Freedom Hall this Saturday to play rival Louisville where the atmosphere will not be nearly as friendly.

"This is the best job our young team has done preparing for a game and then sticking to the game plan," Hanson said. "It's not just game experience we lack. These guys also have to learn how to prepare for a game. This was a big step in the right direction."

Which is the way it should be when a team aces an exam.

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