Date story published: Wednesday, December 6, 2000
To keep his teams on an even keel emotionally, Tubby Smith often voices a pet phrase: You're never as bad as you think after a loss and you're never as good as you think after a win.
Much to Smith's consternation, Kentucky demonstrated the wisdom of the latter last night.
Kentucky beat outmanned Eastern Kentucky 94-79. But any resemblance to the UK team that enjoyed a rousing victory at North Carolina on Saturday was purely coincidental.
Turnovers marred this follow-up victory, which evened UK's record at 3-3. The Cats set a Rupp Arena record with 29 turnovers.
"That's what we expected them to do," Tayshaun Prince said. "Twenty-nine on our part, that's obviously too much."
Smith attributed the turnovers to the players' delusions of grandeur against EKU.
"They're playing against somebody they thought they could beat and they all want a piece of the pie," the UK coach said, "and they all want to be seen. They all want to score instead of being patient and letting the offense come to them."
UK's big men, Jason Parker and Marvin Stone, figured to dominate. Instead, Smith benched both for large portions of the game.
Eastern Kentucky, which trailed at halftime 51-16 at Ohio State last weekend en route to a 46-point drubbing, was in the game at intermission.
Kentucky appeared headed for a similarly quick knockout. Getting the customary boost from its bench, UK zipped to a 22-7 lead inside the first seven minutes. Keith Bogans, who led the Cats with 21 points, scored 11 of UK's first 27 points.
EKU looked the part of cannon fodder. The Colonels missed 13 of their first 16 shots, 18 of their first 22 and 23 of their first 29.
That should have been the formula for a laugher.
"We let down," Prince said. "At North Carolina, we played 35 of the 40 minutes. Tonight, we got the lead. Then all of a sudden everything went downhill."
When Smith caught freshman Gerald Fitch grinning after a Eastern timeout with 6:19 left, he could be heard saying, "You think something's funny out here, son?"
Nope, no laugher this game. At least not at halftime.
Kentucky turnovers played a big part in keeping it close. After grabbing the 22-7 lead, UK turned the ball over on five of the next nine possessions (all scoreless).
That gave Eastern a chance a catch its breath. When the Colonels hit a couple three-pointers (the equalizer, as former UK Coach Rick Pitino liked to say), it was a game again.
The Cats committed 16 first-half turnovers. By contrast, UK turned the ball over only 12 times in the inspiring victory at North Carolina, and had fewer than 16 turnovers in three of the previous five games this season.
"That's too much," Bogans said of the turnovers. "I found myself getting mad."
Mad was how Smith felt, too.
While crediting EKU's scrappy defense and trapping of UK's post players, Smith added, "Our unforced errors were ridiculous."
Eastern got as close as four points twice in the final minutes of the first half.
Although the half failed to produce the expected rush of highlight film material, it contained plenty of conversation starters.
Eastern Coach Travis Ford, the former UK point guard, got hit with a technical foul with 15:37 left. The technical came after the Colonels were called for their fifth foul. The Cats were shooting the bonus at the 14:08 mark. It was a good night for Kentucky to get frequent trips to the line. The Cats made their first nine free throws and 11 of the first 12. They finished 28-for-38.
Later in the half, when Eastern guard John White hit a NBA-length three-pointer, Bogans shot Smith a what-can-I-do? look. The UK coach had an answer: "Why don't you guard him?"
Kentucky did not put away the game until three minutes into the second half.
Point guard Saul Smith led an 18-5 breakout that put UK ahead 65-45 with 13:50 left. Smith scored six of the points, twice driving for fast-break layups.
"I thought Saul was the difference in the game," Ford said. "I thought he was tremendous. He turned it from a 10-point game to a 25-point game."
Smith scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half. The 17 points tied his career high.