Date story published: Thursday, February 20, 2003
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- The jacket came off. Cliff Hawkins went in. The defensive intensity shot up.
A fashion statement and a substitution sparked another night's work for the Smothers Brothers (a.k.a. the defense-oriented Kentucky Wildcats of 2002-03).
An exasperated UK Coach Tubby Smith took off his suit coat early in the second half, put sparkplug Cliff Hawkins into the game and then watched a typically smothering defensive performance produce a 66-50 victory over rebuilding Arkansas last night.
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By limiting the freshman-dominated Hogs to one basket in the first 10 minutes of the second half, Kentucky took a stranglehold on their 15th straight victory. Arkansas had only eight second-half baskets (the seventh time in the last 10 games the opposition has had fewer than 10 baskets in a half) and shot 36.4 percent overall (the eighth time in the last 11 games the opposition has made less than 40 percent of its shots).
Kentucky needed the defense on what Hawkins called a "sluggish" night. UK got it.
"When things are not going their way, they put their trust and their faith in the defense," Arkansas' first-year coach, Stan Heath, said. "I had a dream we were storming the floor tonight. Maybe that will happen in the next few years, but it wasn't tonight."
Arkansas made an upset seem possible for a while. The Hogs used a slower pace and UK's over-anxious offense to shorten the game to 20 minutes. Trailing only 36-29 at the break, Arkansas closed within 36-31 with 17:04 left.
A minute earlier, after watching Arkansas grab one, two, three, four, maybe five offensive rebounds on one possession, Smith had seen enough. He took off his suit jacket, a sure sign of irritation, and inserted Hawkins, a sure sign of UK needed an energy boost.
"Usually when he takes it off, he means business," forward Chuck Hayes said. "On that possession, they were killing us."
Smith was coy when asked about the message he tried to send.
"Just hot in there," he said.
Just hot under the coach's collar, the players said.
"That was a sign toward me," senior guard Keith Bogans said. "He looked at me and said, 'Get on the boards!' When he takes the coat off and gives you those eyes, that means he wants you to get after it."
On cue, UK outscored Arkansas 16-2 in an eight-minute stretch to put the game away.
Hawkins, who has been battling a cold the past few days, led the breakout by stealing the ball from Arkansas freshman point guard Eric Ferguson. That seemed to ignite the Cats.
"We were a little sluggish," said Hawkins, who provided a similar spark in the first half. "Coach wanted more on-the-ball pressure. The guys feed off that."
Besides defense, UK wore down the Hogs with inside play. Hayes, who had only one free throw in the first half, scored six of the points (four coming off offensive rebounds) in a 10-0 run shortly after Hawkins entered the game.
Smith credited Hayes for providing "a big lift with energy and toughness. It was a game of toughness."
As usual, Kentucky's defense was plenty tough to subdue the opposition.
"You watch them on TV, it looks a lot more difficult to play against," Arkansas' Alonzo Lane said. "It wasn't suffocating, but it was consistent the whole 40 minutes. They never let up."
A busy work schedule will force former Rupp Runt Larry Conley to regretfully miss the gala reunion of UK players this weekend.
Conley, a college basketball commentator for more than one network, will be working the Memphis-South Florida game in Tampa Saturday night. That will cause him to miss the dinner planned for former UK players Saturday night.
Conley will also work the South Carolina-Florida game next Tuesday in Gainesville and felt he could not squeeze in a trip to Lexington for Sunday's reunion game against Mississippi State.
UK spokesman Brooks Downing said that about 100 former players planned to attend the reunion.