Date story published: Friday, November 20, 1998
With three contributing players tied behind its back, Kentucky still played name that score against lowly Mercer last night.
Despite a spotty second half and what Coach Tubby Smith called "a dip" from most of his precocious freshmen, UK still beat Mercer 82-51.
Yet a second straight romp to start the season did not lessen UK forward Scott Padgett's eagerness to see three suspended teammates back on the active roster.
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"Hopefully, they'll make us a lot better because I don't think we've played very well," Padgett said. "We're getting wins against these teams, but I don't think we've been very impressive."
Center Jamaal Magloire, shooting guard Ryan Hogan and versatile forward Myron Anthony will be available for the first time this season when Kentucky plays Wright State on Monday in Cincinnati. They sat out two exhibition games and the first two regular-season games as punishment for off-season brushes with the law.
"Oh, it'll make a big difference," Smith said. "We know, obviously, that we've not played the caliber of competition we're going to run into from here. Jamaal is a proven player who'll give us more size and physical play inside. We bring back our best three-point shooter and best outside shooter in Ryan. Myron is coming along and improving.
"And I know they're eager to play. That's going to help us in and of itself."
UK (2-0) looked anything but eager in the second half against Mercer. With a 30-point halftime lead, the Cats had decided which team would win. That Mercer, one of the worst Division I programs in the nation, stayed within a point of UK in the second half (33-32) reflected the Cats' lack of concentration as much as the opponent's persistence.
When asked if he got what he hoped for in the glorified scrimmage, Smith said, "I saw it in the first half. We stayed within our fundamentals and stayed within our game plan of playing hard. Then in the second half, we had a tendency not to make sharp cuts."
Padgett said the return of Magloire, Hogan and Anthony would make practices more competitive and make the Cats play harder more consistently to earn playing time.
No doubt Smith would welcome that development. But the UK coach balked at the suggestion that Mike Bradley's play (12 points, five rebounds against Mercer) might jeopardize Magloire's chances to start upon his return.
"He wasn't starting at the end of last year," Smith said of Magloire. "He'll have to earn that right to start. His play (in practice) has been outstanding. But that's the last thing on my mind, whether he's playing well enough to keep someone out of the starting lineup. I'm concerned about him getting better as a player and us getting better as a team."
How much the Mercer game helped those aims seemed debatable.
UK took off toward the inevitable rout in this quote-unquote game when Tayshaun Prince and fellow freshman Souleymane "Jules" Camara entered the game with 15:52 left in the first half.
Camara, 6-foot-11 and a thin 211 pounds, was three inches taller and eight pounds heavier than Mercer's center. Camara blocked the first shot he saw.
Then 41 seconds after entering the game, Camara dunked off a pass from point guard Wayne Turner, who dived on the floor to grab a loose ball. Camara and Turner led UK in scoring with 15 points each.
"You could see a little dip other than Jules," Smith said of the UK freshmen. "Tayshaun didn't shoot it as well. Todd (Tackett) and J.P. (Blevins) struggled. That's going to happen with freshmen. I'm pleased with the way they've developed. This is valuable experience for them."
UK never trailed and steadily expanded its lead in the first half. The halftime score, 49-19, equaled the Cats' largest first-half margin.
On the way to a 30-point halftime lead, UK:
* Established its first double-digit lead, 17-7, at the 12:52 mark.
* Tripled Mercer's point total, 21-7, at 11:28.
* Did not allow Mercer to reach the 10-point mark until 8:56 remained in the half. Freshman Aleem Muhammad's heavily contested leaner marked the first time the Bears scored on two straight possessions.
With victory secure, UK fans looked for highlight film material.
The half's final basket qualified. How often does a player make a two-hand touch pass? Camara did that, re-directing a fastbreak pass that netted freshman Tackett a layup.
Despite the mismatch, Smith treated the second half seriously. He did not make a substitution until the 12:17 mark when UK led 59-28.
UK also continued pressing until less than 10 minutes remained. Starters Padgett and Saul Smith re-entered the game with 9:17 left and UK leading 66-31.
The UK coach offered a cryptic comment when asked why the starters played so much in the second half. "That's just me," he said. "I don't know."
Beginning with the next game, he'll have three more spurs to produce better play.