Date story published: Wednesday, November 26, 1997
LAHAINA, Hawaii - No customary taut thriller, this Kentucky-Arizona game.
Instead, No. 1 Arizona demonstrated its superiority over UK last night in the Maui Invitational. In beating UK 89-74, Arizona reminded the Cats that it was the team that returned its top eight players from last spring's NCAA Tournament overtime championship game between the two schools.
"Arizona showed why they're the national champs," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "You can tell they had experience in their guard play. They controlled the game.
"They've got everybody back and we don't. Their bench is a lot different than ours. The only way to get experience is to play."
Kentucky looked every bit the team in the early stages of transition with a new coach, players in search of defined roles and no Ron Mercer or Derek Anderson in sight.
Arizona did not merely dash Kentucky's hopes of exacting revenge for the championship game. Arizona also denied any hope of another nail-biter with UK. The two schools played a memorable tournament title game here in 1993. Jeff Brassow's tip-in at the buzzer lifted Kentucky to a 93-92 win.
Sophomore guard Mike Bibby, who led Arizona with 20 points, was the biggest thorn in Kentucky's side. Bibby made four steals, all in the first 11 minutes. He didn't commit a turnover in 37 minutes, and he had eight assists.
Arizona (3-0) never trailed and led by double digits for the last 31 minutes and 41 seconds. Arizona will play No. 3 Duke in to night's championship game.
Kentucky (2-1) will play Missouri in the third-place game tonight.
Last night's loss was Kentucky's worst since Jan. 13, 1993 - when the Cats fell to Vanderbilt 101-86 - a span of 167 games.
Kentucky committed 18 turnovers last night, one fewer than the night before in a 70-55 victory over George Washington.
"A lot of it was just carelessness on our part," Smith said. "Two nights in a row we haven't taken care of the ball.
"We were nonchalant in handling the ball. We'll learn and correct. That's an area you can correct."
Arizona established its dominance in the first 10 seconds. On the game's first possession, Bibby threw a lob pass that forward Bennett Davison dunked.
Bibby figured big in Arizona's first-half breakout. He almost had to, because backcourt mate Miles Simon sat out the final 14:22 of the half after being hit with a technical foul, his third personal.
Bibby ballhawked Kentucky into catch-up mode. Three times in the first quarter he either scored off a steal, made the steal or both.
After Arizona stripped a penetrating Wayne Turner of the ball, Bibby's fast-break dunk gave Arizona the lead for good (6-4) with 7:29 left in the first quarter.
Barely a minute later, Bibby stripped Jeff Sheppard after an inbounds pass, then swished a jumper in the UK senior's face.
Less than two minutes later, Bibby swiped the ball from an indecisive Sheppard near midcourt and sped to a dunk. That gave Arizona its first double-digit lead (14-4) with 4:48 left in the quarter.
Kentucky's best chance to halt Arizona's fast start came with 4:22 left in the quarter. Simon, who dropped a 30-point bomb on UK in the NCAA Tournament championship game in March, got hit with a technical by referee Tim Higgins. The technical counted as Simon's third foul.
UK got within six points but no closer thanks to a three-point barrage sparked by - who else? - Bibby. He made two of Arizona's three treys in the final 1:41 of the quarter; the second gave his team a 27-13 lead at the break.
Simon, last year's Final Four most valuable player, saw Kentucky as not quite the team of a year ago.
"Last year's team was probably better than this year's team," he said. "Quickness. I think they lost some quickness.
"They took off the press in the second quarter. That's not the typical Kentucky team."
Even when Kentucky pressured Bibby, he answered quickly. After Turner flew out to block Bibby's three-point attempt into the UK bench, Bibby drained a trey on the ensuing possession.
Arizona stretched its lead to as much as 35-15 in the second quarter.
For a second straight game here, Kentucky's offense struggled. The Cats shot only 26.5 percent in the first half. UK had only three baskets in the first quarter. Arizona had four three-pointers and three dunks in that span.
"We just couldn't make our shots tonight," Smith said.
"We've got to work on shooting, that's for sure. If we had made some shots, it would have been a close game for sure.
"Many times we had some open looks, and you've got to make those shots, or it's going to be a long, long year."
Sheppard and Scott Padgett, two players expected to play big roles in UK's offense, struggled. Sheppard, who made only one of 10 shots against George Washington, hit only two of six in the first half and finished 5-for-12, including 2-for-6 from three-point range. Padgett's only basket in seven shots set the halftime score -Arizona 42, Kentucky 28.
UK made a run early in the third quarter. Heshimu Evans' contested layup reduced the deficit to 48-37 with 6:12 left. But after Allen Edwards missed a three-point shot, Arizona buried the Cats under a pile of treys. Three three-pointers in the final 4:16 of the quarter helped Arizona take a 65-48 lead into the final 10 minutes.