Date story published: Wednesday, January 23, 2002
AUBURN, Ala. -- Clutch play by All-American candidate Tayshaun Prince and bunches of plays by walk-on extraordinaire Marquis Estill pulled Kentucky out of a muck of a game and toward a 69-62 victory over Auburn last night.
A battle between the Southeastern Conference's two best defensive teams made for little offensive artistry. UK and Auburn combined for more turnovers (32) than assists (30), combined 39.2-percent shooting and as many missed free throws (25) as made (25).
But when the time came for the decisive play, there was Prince. Although he'd made only one shot in the first 34 minutes, Prince swished a three-pointer when UK badly needed a score. Auburn had rallied to within four points of the Cats.
Both coaches saw the play as defining as well as decisive.
"We ran a play and Tayshaun took it on himself that if he was open to take the shot," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "He's our go-to guy, our All-American. Great players make that type of shot and our guys look for him in those situations."
Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis agreed. "That's why he was (SEC) Player of the Year a year ago," he said.
Estill came off the bench to score 21 points, one shy of a career high. UK needed his production on a scoreless, one-rebound night for starter Jules Camara against Auburn's Kyle Davis, the league's best shot blocker. Estill's play enabled UK to achieve its goal of getting Davis in foul trouble. He only played 15 minutes.
"He was the X-factor," point guard Cliff Hawkins said of Estill. "He put guys on his back."
A self-conscious smile crossed Estill's face when told of Hawkins' X-factor comment.
"I accept responsibility that the team wants me to do things I'm capable of doing," he said.
Even with the scoring from Estill and Prince, Kentucky rode defense to its 13th victory in 17 games. The Cats, who improved to 3-2 in the SEC (a game behind Florida and Georgia for first place in the Eastern Division), limited Auburn to 35.8-percent shooting.
"I thought defense was the key," Smith said. "We forced them to take some tougher, deeper shots."
Auburn, which slipped to 9-8 overall and 1-5 in the SEC, stayed close because of point guard Marquis Daniels. Daniels, a 6-foot-6 converted swingman, scored 15 of his 16 points in the first half. That blitz put Hawkins on the bench with two fouls at the 9:29 mark.
"He was killing us," Smith said. "The matchup change in the second half was big."
Prince took Daniels and, with help from teammates, limited him to 2-for-7 shooting in the second half.
"Cliff could keep him in front of him," Prince said. "But if he penetrated, he had the ability to shoot over Cliff. That's what he was doing. When he penetrated and tried to shoot over me, I just made him shoot real high and made it tough for him."
Gerald Fitch, forced to play point guard because of Hawkins' foul trouble, sparked an 11-4 mini-run that produced a 37-30 halftime lead. With the score tied at 26, Fitch hit a three-pointer from in front of the Auburn bench while being fouled by Lincoln Glass. Fitch's only basket of the half was a four-point play that gave UK a 30-26 lead with 3:30 left.
Keith Bogans, who continued the hot shooting from Notre Dame and finished with 13 points, hit his second three-pointer of the half to extend the lead to 35-28.
A dunk by Estill with 24 seconds left set the halftime score.
Nothing came easy for either team as the second half unfolded.
UK got points once in its first 12 possessions. Rashaad Carruth's awkward leaner in the lane pushed the Cats' lead to 39-30 with 17:57 left.
After Glass hit back-to-back three-pointers to reduce UK's lead to 39-36, Auburn went scoreless on 11 straight possessions. With UK leading 39-36, the two teams combined for 13 straight possessions to keep the score close.
The Cats finally broke through. Fitch snapped UK's five-minute scoreless streak with a three-pointer set up by Estill's pass from the low post. That put Kentucky ahead 42-36 with 12:47 left.
Fitch's shot began an 11-0 run that put UK ahead 50-36 with 10:24 left.
Auburn went more than six minutes and 11 possessions without a point. Reserve Abdou Diame (pronounced Ja-MAY) broke the spell with a layup with 9:54 left.
That sparked an 8-0 Auburn counter-run that helped the Tigers get as close as 54-50 with 6:25 left.
But after a timeout, Kentucky went to Prince, who delivered a three-pointer that eased the way toward a not-so-pretty victory.
"I don't know if it was ugly," Smith said. "They get in your face and stay in your face."