Date story published: Sunday, December 29, 2002
LOUISVILLE -- Embarrassed. Manhandled. Outworked. And the unkindest selection from the sporting world's dictionary of insults: Quitters.
Kentucky players slung those wounding words after yesterday's 81-63 loss to Louisville.
A deflating second half inspired the self-incrimination.
After dominating Louisville for much of the first half, the Cats either chose or got snookered into imitating U of L's frenetic style. An early 20-9 lead, mainly the product of an astounding 15-1 rebounding advantage, gave way to a 94-foot, broken-floor test of will and stamina.
The Cats acknowledged they were defenseless: They left their will and stamina in the locker room at halftime and, as a consequence, suffered the program's most lopsided loss to Louisville since 1988.
Louisville, which snapped a three-game losing streak in this heated series, outscored UK 51-30 in the second half. Worse, except for a brief rally, the Cats fell further behind -- and into disarray -- as the half continued.
"Real embarrassing," said Cliff Hawkins, the spark in UK's victory over Indiana on this floor last weekend. "We kind of gave up in the second half. They wanted it more than we did."
As U of L Coach Rick Pitino feared, Kentucky pounded the boards to take early command. Louisville (7-1) did not grab an offensive rebound until the 10:12 mark. At that juncture, Kentucky led 20-9.
"We could have punished them," UK center Marquis Estill said. "But we didn't take control."
Of course, Estill was Kentucky's hammer. But he got off only two shots: a first-half putback and a post-up attempt with 9:39 left.
"Two shots is ridiculous," UK Coach Tubby Smith.
U of L center Marvin Stone, whose transfer from UK launched reams of pre-game stories, said he braced for the job of stopping Estill in the second half.
When told that Stone expected UK's offense to go to Estill, the UK big man said with a shrug, "Me, too, I guess."
It never happened.
Asked if UK forgot about Estill, forward Chuck Hayes said, "We kind of did. We went away from our strength a little bit, but they took us out of our game plan."
UK credited Louisville's game plan: doubling on Estill each time he touched the ball in the low post. "They helped out a lot," Estill said. "Sagging with big men, I really couldn't make my moves."
Playing U of L's style -- "The whole time," Hayes grumbled -- also contributed to Estill's slide to irrelevancy.
"We got right into what they wanted to do," Hayes said.
The game turned late in the first half. After making only one of its first eight three-point shots, U of L made three in the final 3:20. That burst, which included two treys from reserve Bryant Northern, got the Cards within 33-30 at the break.
"He set the tempo," Smith said of Northern, who had made only two of 13 shots from beyond the arc coming into the game. "They were deep threes as well. Those are the things that can really take the wind from you."
A halftime threat from Pitino quickened Louisville's pulse. "We were getting killed on the glass," the U of L coach said of UK's 24-14 first-half rebounding edge. "If they killed us in the second half, we would have practiced tonight. We had two options."
Led by forward Ellis Myles, who grabbed 12 of his 14 rebounds in the second half, Louisville outrebounded UK 21-12 in the second half.
"I was disappointed in our effort in the second half," Smith said. "We looked like -- I don't know -- coming out of the locker room, they lacked energy."
Poor shot selection compounded the problem as unpredictable shots left rebounders out of position.
A flurry typical of Pitino teams early in the second half sent Kentucky spiraling. Lexingtonian Erik Brown hit a three-pointer to put U of L ahead 36-35, the Cards' first lead since 5-4. Seconds later, a pressing Reece Gaines stole the ball from Gerald Fitch and fed freshman Francisco Garcia for a layup.
"Very big," Pitino said. "Coming out of the locker room, we felt great. We felt we didn't do the job mentally (in the first half). We got a reprieve."
The roaring crowd seemed only to further speed UK's tempo.
"We got rattled," Hawkins said.
Smith singled out senior Keith Bogans for letting poor shooting (one of nine from three-point range) adversely affect his confidence. "That attitude is contagious," the UK coach said.
"I could sense them rushing a little bit," Northern said. "Once they got down, we figured Bogans would try to go a lot one on one. We knew if we challenged his shot and made some of the other guys beat us, they'd have a hard time catching up."
That thought -- and U of L's style -- prevailed.