Date story published: Monday, March 15, 2004
ATLANTA -- Don't let anyone tell you differently. Close counts in hand grenades, first dates and triple-doubles.
Chuck Hayes' flirtation with a triple-double was plenty good enough to power Kentucky to an 89-73 victory over Florida and another Southeastern Conference Tournament championship yesterday.
Reflecting UK's continued dominance around the basket against Florida, Hayes scored a career-high 23 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out a career-high eight assists. Those numbers approached the only triple-double in UK history: the 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists by freshman Chris Mills against Austin Peay in 1988.
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More to the point, Hayes made amends for one of his least productive UK games a day earlier and made his father, Charles Hayes, a prophet of positive thinking.
"My dad gave me a pep talk," Hayes said of a father-son chat after foul trouble limited the UK player to two points against South Carolina on Saturday. "He told me he knew what I could do and I know what I can do. Just go out and do it."
Undersized as a 6-foot-6 power forward against some opponents, Hayes towered against a Florida front line that had swingman Matt Walsh as its leading rebounder here.
The Cats won the rebounding battle 40-27 (close to the 53-26 edge in Lexington the week before) and outscored Florida in the paint 38-16.
"Their physicality in the front court wore us down a little bit," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "With Kentucky, it's a little bit of a pick your poison."
Donovan chose to defend Hayes and Erik Daniels one on one in the low post in order to limit UK's perimeter scoring.
Hayes was everywhere, dishing off for baskets early (he tied his previous career high of six assists in the first half), grabbing rebounds later (six in the second half) and scoring in a variety of ways (up-and-unders, baby hooks and even a fadeaway jumper).
When asked about the rarity of triple-doubles in UK history, associate coach David Hobbs noted the variety of skills possessed by Hayes.
"It takes being unselfish," Hobbs said of the assist component. "It takes being tough (rebounding) and you have to use your skills (scoring). It takes all three things."
Kentucky (26-4) never trailed, in part because of Hayes' contributions to an early flurry of crisp passes. Four of UK's first five baskets were produced by passes, two from Hayes at the high post.
The Cats roared to leads of 11-2 and 20-7. Although UK nemesis Matt Walsh kept the Gators close, Kentucky never seemed seriously threatened.
Kentucky needed a big game from Hayes because Daniels went to the bench with two fouls at the 16:38 mark. Three minutes later, point guard Cliff Hawkins followed Daniels to bench with his own two fouls.
But Kentucky's offense purred on. The Cats' 49 first-half points were the most since scoring that many against Michigan State on Dec. 13.
Kentucky steadily pulled away in the second half, holding Florida scoreless in the first four minutes.
Gerald Fitch, the SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player, and Kelenna Azubuike each added 18 points.
As the points piled up, Hayes was oblivious to his approach to a triple-double. But teammate Josh Carrier knew.
"He was feeding Kelenna on the baseline early and making good passes," Carrier said. "In the second half, he was grabbing every rebound. I sat there and thought to myself, he's might be getting close to a triple-double."
Carrier did not say anything to Hayes. Afterward, Hayes lamented coming up short. He and Daniels have a good-natured competition to see who will get one.
"He's capable of doing it," said Daniels, who conceded nothing even if he's near the end of his senior season. "I've still got six more games to get it."
Only reluctantly did Hayes settle for being triple trouble for Florida.
"I'm going to get me one," Hayes said. "I told Erik I'm going to get one before I leave."