Date story published: Tuesday, December 31, 2002
In more ways than one, Kentucky got rich in Rupp Arena last night.
During the first television timeout, the crowd greeted an on-court appearance by new UK football coach Rich Brooks with polite applause.
Then, after a slow start, the Cats enjoyed an abundance of riches on the scoreboard in beating outmanned Tennessee State 115-87.
Considering the dispiriting loss at Louisville last Saturday, the Cats probably needed a pick-me-up more than Brooks.
Kentucky collapsed in the second half against Louisville. Against Tennessee State, the Cats blew open the game after halftime.
Fueled by an attacking full-court press, UK surpassed its offensive production in the Louisville game with 68 second-half points. The scoring barrage propelled the Cats to the second-most points in Tubby Smith's six seasons as coach. Only the 118-63 rout of Kentucky State last season saw more UK scoring.
Keith Bogans led the way with 26 points. But UK's leading scorer made a more telling contribution after Smith benched the slow-starting starters at the first TV timeout. He knelt down and spoke to his fellow starters.
"He just told us to relax, himself included," teammate Chuck Hayes said. "We were too tentative. We were second-guessing ourselves."
The mass substitution jump-started Kentucky. Fully engaged, the Cats better kept up with Tennessee State's race-horse pace.
UK (7-3) gradually erased an early seven-point deficit. When the pace made State sloppy down the stretch, the Cats built a 13-point lead.
But no first-half knockout was in the offing. State steadied itself to trail only 47-40 at halftime.
State (2-7) showed immediately that it had no intention of losing without a fight. The Tigers ran from the opening tap and attacked the basket fearlessly.
State sped to an early 12-5 lead. All six baskets came in the lane, three off fast breaks, against indifferent UK defense.
That the Cats committed only one foul in the game's first 14 minutes reflected the lack of teeth in the defense. So did the Tigers' 7-for-9 shooting to start the game.
Smith called the game "one of the worst as far as stopping penetration. Sometimes you have to be a little bit agitated, a little mad about how you played last time out so you can improve. Instead of feeling sorry, we've got to have somebody else to take it out on."
Belatedly, Kentucky took it out on Tennessee State in the second half. The Cats pressed relentlessly -- and effectively -- to open the half.
"We had to find a way we could get a spark going," Hayes said.
Tennessee State turned the ball over three times inside the first three minutes. UK converted the third for a layup that established a 59-45 lead, the Cats' largest to that point.
Point guard Gerald Fitch welcomed the chance to press. "Oh, yeah," he said. "It gets the crowd into the game and makes everything exciting. Everybody wants an up-tempo game and not a boring game."
The quickening pace spilled over to UK's offense. In a span covering one minute and 12 seconds, the Cats scored five baskets to expand the lead to 71-50.
That fast-breaking point explosion -- a key in UK's 53.1-percent shooting -- came in an 18-2 run that settled everything but the final score.
A shooting spree by Josh Carrier put Kentucky ahead by 29 down the stretch.
Carrier's one-handed tip-in began a career-high eight-point game. After the tip, he swished back-to-back three-point shots, his first treys since the opening game against Arizona State.
This breather of a game allowed freshman Kelenna Azubuike to equal his career high of nine points.
Smith welcomed the chance to get every UK player in a game.
"They can feel better," he said, "and feel they can contribute to the success."
The UK coach applauded improved shooting and the 31 assists, the second-highest total of his tenure. Only the Rupp Arena record of 33 assists against Kentucky State last season has been better.
"Even though we had (21) turnovers, we were looking to make that pass," he said, approvingly.
Not so well received was Tennessee State's 52.3-percent shooting, a season high for a Kentucky opponent.
"I mean, it's hard to imagine right now," Smith said. "That's what concerns me."