Date story published: Monday, January 10, 2005
Kentucky had a sound, logical plan to beat Kansas yesterday. The Cats just lacked one key ingredient: the discipline to execute that plan.
UK wanted to make this victory an inside job. Especially with Kansas All-America candidate Wayne Simien sidelined, UK's big men would dominate.
Yet even when Kansas lost its two front-line starters for crunch time, one to a late ankle sprain and the other to fouls, Kentucky could not win.
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Kansas beat Kentucky 65-59 because its big men commanded the lane and UK's men of all sizes continued a season-long pattern of drifting away from the team basketball preached repeatedly by Coach Tubby Smith.
"Some of the same problems we've had all year hurt us again," Smith said.
Poor execution. Inconsistent defense. Individuals looking to win the game. Same old, same old.
"Sometimes it takes a game like this for everybody to see playing together as a team is what's going to win," said guard Patrick Sparks, who acknowledged that his shooting line (8-for-13 overall, 1-for-8 on threes) reflected his own need to think team first.
"We went to a lot of one-on-one," Chuck Hayes said. "Things weren't as fluid as we wanted."
UK's starting front line -- Randolph Morris, Kelenna Azubuike and Hayes -- shot a combined 8-for-35. Kansas' two starting post players -- freshman C.J. Giles and walk-on Christian Moody -- made nine of 12 shots.
Smith credited Kansas' plan to double-team Morris and Hayes whenever they touched the ball on the low post as key. "They took us out of our game," the UK coach said. "And we weren't strong enough and disciplined enough to stay with the game plan."
Kentucky's big men often tried to score over or through the double teams. Or they failed to make a crisp pass back out for an open shot. UK's centers and forwards missed their first 15 shots, and they didn't score until Hayes hit a pull-up jumper with 5:58 left in the first half.
"We practice it every day: reverse step and look to the other side or kick it back out to a three-point shooter," reserve Bobby Perry said of handling the double-teams. "Every game we want to go inside first and then go outside. Today, we got it inside. We just didn't do the second part."
Morris, who scored a career-high 25 points against Campbell and then dominated South Carolina early, did not make any of his eight shots.
"That really put a shock on me," Giles said. "I thought he got a little frustrated early because he stopped looking to score for a while."
Kansas Coach Bill Self said he first thought trapping Hayes was too risky because of the UK player's passing ability. But after watching more tape, Self decided to trap any UK player in the post.
"I don't want to say the plan was to let them beat us from outside," Self said, "but we weren't going to let them get uncontested shots inside."
UK (10-2) did not wait for high-percentage three-point attempts resulting from passes out of the post. Not so coincidentally, the Cats' two best perimeter shooters -- Azubuike and Sparks -- made a combined three of 15 from beyond the arc.
"I was very disappointed in a lot of our shot selection," Smith said, "especially in the heat of the game. That's where patience and discipline come into play."
Kentucky got only one basket from its set offense in the final 3:54: A three-pointer by walk-on Ravi Moss created by Azubuike's penetration. The Cats' only other basket in that stretch was an improbable left-handed flip shot by a driving Sparks.
Because of defense (Kansas made only 39.6 percent of its shots), Kentucky hung tough.
"We had opportunities," Smith said. "But when we got it close, we made bad decisions, some undisciplined decisions at times."
The game's most important play was an improvisation by Kansas.
With Kansas ahead 58-56, Sparks' defense caused point guard Aaron Miles to slip to the floor. Sometime during the fall (or slightly thereafter), Miles pushed a pass to teammate Michael Lee standing alone near the left corner. Lee swished a three-pointer as the shot clock expired to put Kansas ahead 61-56 with 31 seconds left.
"I made a joke after the game," said Self, who had called timeout to set up a play. "That's how you run the pick and roll ... That was the biggest offensive possession of the game."
"I thought he walked," Smith said. "I guess he didn't.
"That's just a dagger to your heart when that happens. It takes the wind out of your sails. That's a real killer."