Date story published: Monday, February 24, 2003
Supersub Cliff Hawkins shot, scored, scrapped and starred off the bench in Kentucky's 70-62 win over Mississippi State yesterday.
That he made his first four shots and scored 14 points put Mississippi State's defense between a Hawk and hard place.
"No question, I thought he was the difference in the game," State Coach Rick Stansbury said. "He's a guy, out of all those other four guys out there, if you want them to shoot the perimeter shot, he's the guy. ... You choose your poison. He's the guy we play soft and give support off. He made us pay. You get into him, maybe the post people make you pay."
Said teammate Keith Bogans of Hawkins: "He is the toughest guy on the team when he hits the outside shots."
Stansbury credited Hawkins for containing Mississippi State's point guard, Derrick Zimmerman (2-for-7 shooting).
"Hawkins coming off the bench was huge," the Mississippi State coach said. "We knew Hawkins today would play more than (Gerald) Fitch because they didn't want their Zimmerman matchup on Fitch."
Hawkins also zipped through Mississippi State's press to set up easy scores.
"Like Georgia, they had a big guy up front (in the press)," Hawkins said. "A big guy is just not going to slow me down. If I get past a big guy, I feel we have numbers and I can make a play."
UK outrebounded Mississippi State 37-25, marking only the second time this season that the Bulldogs have been outrebounded. Mississippi State came into the game ranked second nationally in rebound margin (plus 9.1).
"We stressed rebounding all week, especially preparing for this game," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "We knew we had to box them out."
Said Stansbury: "It looked like they were just bigger and better and rebounding better than we did."
Oh, those turnovers
Bogans gestured for the inbounds pass to go to Fitch. But Chuck Hayes inbounded the ball to a startled Bogans, who coughed it up. "Type of play we can't have down the stretch," Bogans said of the miscue, which contributed to the Cats' late wobbles.
Actually, both teams lamented their combined 31 turnovers.
"We had quite a few that were unforced," UK Coach Tubby Smith said of the Cats' 17 turnovers, most since the first South Carolina game on Jan. 11.
Stansbury ruefully recalled the turnovers, including Ontario Harper's fumble at the basket of an inbounds pass, that stalled a Mississippi State comeback that reduced UK's lead to 60-55.
"If you're not playing Kentucky, you can survive those turnovers," he said. "But they get magnified when you're playing a team like Kentucky"
State wondered aloud about the possibility of facing Kentucky again in the Southeastern Conference Tournament next month.
"We'd love to get another shot at them," guard Timmy Bowers said. "I think on a neutral court, it's anybody's game."
'Little green man'
State came into the game as the SEC's best shooting team (47.8 percent in league play). But UK limited State to 42.9-percent accuracy. Particularly painful for Mississippi State were shots inside the lane that refused to go in.
"It was like a little green man was sitting up there knocking everything down," center Mario Austin said.
No double trouble
By winning, Kentucky assured itself of avoiding double-digit losses. That became a fan concern after the Cats lost 10 in each of the last three seasons for the first time in school history.
If UK doesn't win again this season, it would finish with a record of 22-9.
Kentucky completed its first 6-0 sweep of Western Division teams since 1996.
The top three teams in the Eastern Division -- UK, Florida and Georgia -- have a combined 16-0 record against the West. Overall, Eastern Division teams are 23-7 against the West.
Smith gave his 1998 national championship team the edge over this season's Cats in experience and defensive ability. The 1998 team held 25 of 39 opponents to less than 40-percent shooting. This year's team has held 11 of 25 teams to that standard. ... Bogans' 18 points moved him within striking distance of seventh place on UK's career scoring list. Bogans is ninth at 1,768 points. Cotton Nash is eighth at 1,770. Tayshaun Prince is seventh at 1,775.