Date story published: Thursday, January 11, 2001
Kentucky presses every game. It just can be hard to tell.
Not last night. The Cats harkened the ghosts of the pressing teams of the last decade, especially early in the second half of a 69-63 victory over South Carolina.
"A lot of times in the past, we haven't had hard ball pressure and hands waving in their faces," reserve guard J.P. Blevins said. "The crowd reacts, and we get energized."
UK's press wobbled Carolina early in second half. In a 16-6 mini-breakout, the Cats prevented Carolina from reaching midcourt three times in the first four minutes. Carolina point guard Aaron Lucas palmed the ball while being pressed, Keith Bogans swiped the ball from Chuck Eidson and Jamel Bradley dragged his foot when he hesitated making a pass.
With each turnover, the Rupp Arena crowd roared ever louder.
"That felt good," Blevins said. "The crowd was appreciating it. You can tell when the guys are ball-pressuring, waving their hands and slapping the floor, they appreciate that. That fuels a guy's energy on defense and in the press."
UK Coach Tubby Smith called it his team's best pressing performance of the season.
"That was something we had to do to get them to play quicker," he said. "(UK also wanted to) try to get the ball out of Aaron Lucas' hands.
"We pressed in the first half," Smith added. "We didn't have the same type of commitment to it."
UK's bench outscored Carolina's reserves 31-12.
"Our bench played outstanding," Smith said. "That was the key to the win."
For a second straight game, Marquis Estill and Blevins came up big. Estill had 11 points in 19 minutes, which matched his longest stint since the North Carolina game. Blevins added eight points in 18 minutes, two shy of a season-high.
Smith noted Blevins' improved defense. "It's all about confidence," he said. "As I've said, if they have confidence and a kid plays well, he'll stay in the game."
Keith Bogans aggravated a right ankle sprain. Saul Smith sustained a bruised patella tendon on his right knee. Neither injury was considered serious, team publicist Brooks Downing said.
Except for the game's first possession, South Carolina played zone throughout the first half and much of the second half.
Kentucky missed its first eight three-point shots. Then Blevins broke the spell with 1:26 left in the first half.
The Cats matched their second-lowest total of the season for three-pointers with four. UK was four for 18 from beyond the arc.
"We had some open looks," Tubby Smith said. "That's the troubling part. We're getting good shots, good looks at the basket. They're not going in."
UK players were told that South Carolina had made more free throws than its opponents had shot.
"They didn't listen to that because we kept fouling," Smith said.
South Carolina began shooting the one-and-one with 13:25 left in the game. The Gamecocks had no fouls at that time.
Smith also found fault and a source of sarcasm with UK letting Lucas penetrate down the stretch.
"We thought we'd let him go to the basket and he'd miss the shot, obviously," he said jokingly. "But it didn't work."