Date story published: Saturday, March 20, 1999
ST. LOUIS - Kentucky was right. Miami star Wally Szczerbiak was wrong.
After insisting their superior numbers would wear down Szczerbiak, the Cats proved their point last night.
UK softened Miami in a physical and fast-paced first half. Then the Cats sped away from the tiring RedHawks to win 58-43.
A crowd of 42,440, a record for a NCAA Tournament regional game, saw Kentucky breathe life into its game plan and roar into Sunday's finals of the Midwest Region.
Only Michigan State, the deep and physical Big Ten champions, stand between UK and a rare fourth straight trip to the Final Four.
UK's game plan worked "sort of exactly like we wanted it," said Scott Padgett, who led the Cats with 17 points. "The first halves are tough games. Then we are able to wear down teams in the middle of the second half. The way the subs came in and did a great job, that allowed us to do that again."
The plan worked so well that UK Coach Tubby Smith could only offer a mock criticism.
"I hoped it would unfold a lot quicker," he quipped. "It played out the way our game plan was. Press and make them work in the first half. Then we figured they'd hit a wall at some point in the second half."
Szczerbiak, who had scored 67 points in the first two rounds, tired visibly after keeping Miami in contention with 15 first-half points. He finished with 23, the 21st time in his last 24 games he scored 20 or more. But one player, even as good as Szczerbiak, couldn't beat Kentucky. The RedHawks, who got 6-for-28 shooting from their other players, finished their season with a 24-8 record.
"You're not going to stop Wally," Smith said. "He's too good a player. He's too versatile. (But) it's one of our mantras. I usually think that not one guy can beat you."
From the start, Kentucky threw a quickened pace and constant pressure at Miami. And Szczerbiak kept UK from building a commanding lead.
As it was, a fortunate no-call and a fluke three-point basket by Saul Smith gave the Cats a 26-19 halftime lead.
Smith's scoring shot was in the air when the horn ending the half sounded. Seconds earlier, he had fired a three-pointer that bounced off the rim. Freshman Jules Camara came close to going over a Miami player's back to control the rebound. With no foul called , Camara directed the ball back to Smith. Leaping from behind the line, Smith caught the pass and put up a touch shot just before his feet hit the floor. The bucket was originally ruled a two-pointer, but officials changed it to a three at halftime.
Because of Szczerbiak, UK needed a few breaks. He scored 15 of Miami's 19 first-half points.
But UK controlled, even dominated a half in which it never trailed.
The Cats showed early their intention to run. Wayne Turner hit a fast-break jumper in the first minute. UK's next possession saw Padgett fire up a three-pointer on the break.
Smith quickened the pace by making what is becoming his patented five-man substitution. This time the five subs came in with 15:19 left in the half.
The subs shot quickly, too. Saul Smith hit a three-pointer on a no-pass possession after the inbounds.
When Camara hit a post-up shot over Szczerbiak to extend Kentucky's lead to 13-5, Miami called a 20-second timeout with 12:47 left.
The UK lead reached 16-5 when Desmond Allison rattled in a three-pointer with 10:28 left.
But Szczerbiak prevented an early knockout.
For more than 12 minutes, Kentucky's tenacious defense held Miami to one basket - a Szczerbiak three-pointer over Mike Bradley, who got the Miami star on a switch . During that span, the RedHawks made only one of 11 shots. It concluded a horrible shooting start for Miami, which made only three of its first 16 shots.
When it seemed Kentucky might make quick work of Miami, Szczerbiak got busy. His three-pointer with 5:11 left got the RedHawks within 19-13.
His driving layup reduced Kentucky's lead to 19-15 with 3:48 left. It also gave him 13 of Miami's first 15 points.
"We knew Wally would get his points," Padgett said. "But we wanted to play great team defense. It's crazy to say, but he only got 16 shots up. I guess we limited his touches a little."
Kentucky took charge early in the second half. The Cats grabbed their first double-digit lead - 31-21 - on Heshimu Evans' putback with 18:19 left.
Miami got as close as 35-28 when Damon Frierson, a former Indiana Mr. Basketball, scored his first basket with 11:16 left.
But Padgett led a 10-0 run that put tiring Miami away.
Padgett, who scored eight of the points in the run, began the mini-breakout with two free throws.
After Miami called a 20-second timeout with 9:31 left, Szczerbiak stumbled and then fumbled the ball away as he started a drive against Padgett.
Padgett completed the resulting fast break with a three-pointer that put the Cats ahead 40-28.
After Turner cut for a layup, Padgett applied the coup de grace with another three-pointer. It put Kentucky ahead 45-28 with 8:03 left.
"In the first and early in the second half, I didn't do much," Padgett said. "I made silly fouls and found myself on the bench. I was glad to finally contribute."