Date story published: Saturday, November 17, 2001
After Kentucky lost to Western Kentucky Thursday night, Keith Bogans refused to answer his phone. He wouldn't even return his mother's call.
"I couldn't even watch SportsCenter," he said.
That's not what opening night for a highly ranked college basketball team is supposed to be about. An overmatched opponent, highlight plays, happy smiles and look-out-world optimism -- that's the stuff of opening nights.
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A night later than scheduled, Kentucky played its season opener.
In the aptly named consolation game of the NABC Classic, UK repaired its battered soul by beating shorthanded Marshall 90-73 last night.
The Cats broke open a competitive game late in the first half. Then UK put an efficient beating on the Thundering Herd.
"A good start," UK Coach Tubby Smith said, "especially after last night's debacle."
The Cats did not so much dance dunks on Marshall's collective head as use an easy victory to exhale.
"We let everybody down," pre-season All-American Tayshaun Prince said. "All we worked for throughout the whole (off)-season, to play like that in the first game, that hurt. Today was a new day."
As if following the typical opening-game script, No. 4 Kentucky had its way with Marshall. The Cats used a 22-2 run midway through the game to ease toward an inevitable victory.
Every player but injured guards J.P. Blevins and Rashaad Carruth participated, which Smith saw as significant.
"Obviously, everybody was pretty down," he said, "pretty embarrassed. When everybody can get a chance to share in the victory, that makes for a much more happier environment."
UK won easily despite a subpar nine-point, two-rebound performance from Prince, who was limited to 14 minutes because of foul trouble.
Keith Bogans, the Tonto to Prince's Lone Ranger, filled the void with a solid all-around game: 22 points, eight rebounds, five assists and one turnover in 31 minutes.
"Nice line," Smith said.
Bogans, who regularly gets prodded to grab more rebounds, credited his haul to pride. "Ever since I didn't get any rebounds in that exhibition game (against Nike Elite), they've been clowning on me," he said of the wisecracks directed his way. "My goal is to get 10 a game. Eight isn't bad."
Pride, Smith said, was a button he pushed to get the team past the loss to Western.
"Team pride, individual pride," he said. "You can't wallow in pity. No one around here is going to care about that."
Marquis Estill, a non-factor against Western (one point, two rebounds), came up big against Marshall's smaller front line. He had 21 points (one shy of his career-high 22 against Iowa last March), grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots.
Pride, perhaps, caused Estill to deny that he was more productive because Marshall lacked a presence like Western 7-footer Chris Marcus.
"Nah, it'd never be that," he said. "I was more relaxed. Last night I wasn't as relaxed." Estill had missed UK's two pre-season exhibition games because of back spasms.
Marshall was short four players: two suspended for NCAA violations, one suspended for playing professionally in Europe and one a transfer not yet eligible.
"We ran out of gas," Marshall Coach Greg White said.
Marshall's needle hit empty late in the first half. Until then, the Herd had exploited UK's ineffective press for fast-break layups.
Smith credited a change in defensive tactics for Kentucky's breakout.
"We took a giant step in our defensive effort," the UK coach said. "Not early in the game. We were pressing and they were shooting layups."
Nineteen of Marshall's 30 first-half points came in transition, Smith said. "We settled down. ... We limited their easy baskets by playing sound, half-court man-to-man defense."
Offensively, UK bore faint resemblance to the team that repeatedly settled for one-on-one drives against Western. The Cats had 20 assists and only nine turnovers against Marshall, a near reversal of the six-assist, 20-turnover struggle against Western.
"We reversed and passed the ball much better," Smith said of UK's improved offensive flow. "We kept the ball off the floor. A lot had to do with Western. They were pretty physical. They got out in the passing lanes and forced our guys to turn their backs (to control the ball). We had a lot of individual one-on-one moves (against Western). Today, we were not trying to make a play, but allowing the play to take place."
Bogans, who became the 49th UK player to reach the 1,000-point total in his career, could answer his phone and again watch SportsCenter. "Tonight," he said, "was the way we should have played yesterday."