Date story published: Thursday, March 3, 2005
From the sentimental Senior Night ceremony to a bittersweet rendition of My Old Kentucky Home more than two hours later, Kentucky staged about as fond a farewell as Rupp Arena has seen.
This was Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman saying goodbye on the foggy tarmac in Casablanca. Memorable. Emotional. Perfectly timed.
Seemingly on cue, seniors Chuck Hayes and Josh Carrier keyed Kentucky's 73-61 victory over one-time rival Tennessee.
Hayes starred in the irresistible rags-to-riches role, coming back from a foul-plagued first half to make big play after big play at crunch time. Carrier played the boy-next-door who got his reward for perseverance just in the nick of time.
Here's looking at you, kids.
UK Coach Tubby Smith called the game a "well-played script."
Hayes, who didn't score until the 19-minute mark of the second half, saved his best for the end. He scored nine of his 13 points in the final 5:18. It was in that span that UK broke from a 55-55 tie to improve its record to 23-3 overall and 14-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
"You want to do a lot," Hayes said of his eagerness to make amends for his cameo six-minute role in the first half. "My time in Rupp Arena was winding out. I didn't want to spend it on the bench."
Carrier, who started for the first time in his career, scored a career-high nine points. He made a career-high three three-pointers in five attempts. Those baskets marked his first since the William & Mary game on Dec. 22. He had shot 0-for-11 since that game.
"I just thank coach for giving me the opportunity, and I thank God for the chance to be out there and knock down shots," he said.
Tennessee (12-16, 5-10 SEC) added to the night's special atmosphere. Freshman Chris Lofton, the former Mason County star, led the Vols with 19 points.
UK played without Hayes for the final 13:33 of the half. He picked up two fouls before that and headed to the bench. Before taking his seat, he showed his displeasure by stabbing angrily at a towel as it flew toward him.
Shooting by Patrick Sparks and Carrier enabled Kentucky to take a 37-32 halftime lead. Sparks, whose season-high 26 points at Alabama last weekend made him the SEC Player of the Week, hit five of seven shots (four of five from beyond the arc) in scoring all of his team-high 14 points in the first half.
Kentucky led as much as 51-39 early in the second half. Carrier set that score with his third three-pointer with 14:32 left. That gave him a career-high nine points (or one more point than he'd scored since the Tennessee Tech game on Nov. 30).
Carrier's previous career high of eight points came against Tennessee Tech on Dec. 30, 2002.
Lofton prevented a UK breakout. He contributed a pair of three-pointers to a 16-4 Tennessee run that tied it at 55-55 with 8:23 left.
Neither team scored in the next three minutes (five missed shots and a turnover). Then Hayes put Kentucky ahead to stay.
Hayes took a pass along the baseline and powered up against Major Wingate. He scored while absorbing a hit high on the chest and shoulder area. The three-point play put UK ahead 58-55 with 5:18 left.
After a Randolph Morris free throw, Hayes scored back-to-back baskets. The first came courtesy of Rajon Rondo, who tipped the ball away from Tennessee point guard C.J. Watson. On a second tip, Rondo directed the ball to Hayes, who cruised 45 feet to the dunk.
"Me and Chuck lead the team in steals," said Rondo, who with Morris spoke to the media for the first time since the pre-season. "(In tight spots), we look for plays."
On UK's next possession, Hayes scored rather easily on a post-up move against Andre Patterson, the player whose inadvertent elbow broke Hayes' nose at Knoxville.
That made it 63-55 with 3:14 left.
"Chuck's the type of person and the type of player, he's going to reach down and try to do more," Smith said of Hayes' nondescript first half and starry second half. "He'll want to really show, 'Hey, it's my fault, coach. I'm going to rebound harder and play harder.'
"That's just his mentality."
UK can only hope for a few curtain calls between now and the Final Four.