Date story published: Sunday, January 26, 2003
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Mike Tyson versus Pee Wee Herman in the ring. Catherine Zeta-Jones against Olive Oyl in a beauty contest.
The matchup of Kentucky's defense against Alabama's offense suggested a mismatch of such proportions.
But the Cats exceeded even those exaggerated analogies in thoroughly defeating Alabama 63-46 last night.
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UK's toothy defense ate up Bama's bumbling offense in a game for the record books. Not only did UK end the Tide's 28-game home winning streak (the fourth-longest active streak), the Cats held Bama to its lowest home point total since 1969.
Much as Kentucky suffocated every opponent beginning with the second half at Vanderbilt, the Cats left Alabama's offense in tatters. Even Erwin Dudley, the Tide's senior center and reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, was powerless -- and nearly pointless. For the first time in his career, Dudley did not make a basket.
Neither did forward Kenny Walker, the Tide's other low-post threat.
Yes, UK achieved its aim of beheading Bama's offense by choking off the big men with double teams. But no baskets?
"I didn't realize that," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "I didn't think we could do that. That's what determination and commitment can do."
Bama, which had shot only 42.3 percent against SEC teams, hit at a 23.8-percent clip (10-for-42) against UK. That marked the first time UK held an opponent under 30 percent since Feb. 10, 2001 (Mississippi State shot 26.9 percent).
And for the second time in four games, Smith pronounced his defense better than ever.
"I'm sure we can play better defense," the UK coach said, "but I don't know if I've seen better defense."
UK, which extended its winning streak to nine games, improved to 15-3 overall and 5-0 in the SEC. Alabama, which lost for the fourth time in five games, fell to 12-5 overall and 2-4 in the league.
Playing mostly man-to-man, the Cats limited Alabama to only five baskets in each half. It was reminiscent of the futility of Vanderbilt (four baskets in the second half) and Auburn (six baskets in the first half) against UK.
Bama's three players with double-digit scoring averages -- Mo Williams, Dudley and Walker -- combined to shoot 2-for-22.
Afterward Dudley was in no mood to dissect his frustrating night.
"Double teams, you know?" he said when asked about UK's defense. "I had some good looks. They just weren't falling."
Dudley got off only six shots and forced several.
"He was playing to the refs, 'He's fouling me,' " UK center Marquis Estill said. "It seemed like after he missed a few (shots), his head wasn't in the game."
"Basically all they did was triple-team us," said Walker, who missed all seven of his shots.
For Williams, UK succeeded in pushing him farther from the basket and then making him dribble in search of shots.
"I'm just shaking my head," said Williams, who made three of nine shots.
The need for such stingy defense in the first half took the edge off Kentucky's good work. The Cats struggled to put the ball in the hoop themselves in their lowest scoring first half of the season. UK led 26-21 at intermission. But the defense made it seem like the lead should have been greater.
"We knew we had them at halftime," Cliff Hawkins said. The Cats believed Alabama stayed in the game with foul shots.
Kentucky hoped to use a fast start to compound an Alabama defeatism built on balky offense and losses in three of the last four games. "I thought we did," Smith said. "That was a key."
Alabama missed 11 straight shots in going without a basket for more than 11 minutes in the first half.
Bama's frustration reached a boil with about four minutes left in the half. Dudley forced a low-post shot that missed badly. Walker missed a point-blank put-back. Walker rebounded his miss and then banged a dunk attempt off the rim.
Still, Alabama was within five points of the Cats early in the second half. Then UK held the Tide to three free throws and 10 straight missed shots over the next nine minutes.
"We came out and hit a couple threes early," Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said. "Then when things went against us, we looked a little rattled and shaken. We can't have that."
However, Gottfried gave Kentucky's defense full credit.
"They disrupted us more than anyone else we've played this year," the Alabama coach said.
The deliciously scary possibility of a shutout seemed, if not possible, then less implausible for Kentucky.
"I don't know about that," a smiling Estill said of a shutout. "But it'd be nice."