Date story published: Wednesday, November 24, 2004
CINCINNATI -- Chuck Hayes saw king-size symmetry in Kentucky's 73-53 victory over Ball State here last night.
"Probably the biggest guy on the team gave us the biggest spark," Hayes said.
The tallest guy, not just on the team but in UK's entire storied basketball history, was Shagari Alleyne.
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And Alleyne's impact came during an astounding five minutes of the second half. In that stretch he dunked three times. He scored eight of his career-high 10 points. He repeatedly beat Ball State, the quicker team much of the night, down the floor on the fast break. He used his 7-foot-3 height to mess with Ball State's collective mind and turn a crowd of 15,563 delirious.
"He has a presence about him that when he walks on the floor, he'll get you thinking," said Ball State Coach Tim Buckley. "When he checked in, we played a little too fast for us."
That led to turnovers and rushed shots, which UK converted into rapid-fire fast-break opportunities. Repeatedly, Alleyne was the beneficiary, punctuating breaks with dunks.
Kentucky, now 2-0, also benefited: A 43-37 lead when he came off the bench at the 12:42 mark ballooned to 60-46 when he left (to a standing ovation) with 5:33 left.
"That was a great experience (for Alleyne)," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "I know he's excited and the players are excited for him."
The game's telling sequence saw Alleyne score three straight baskets (and four of five) for UK. Less than 20 seconds after coming in the game, he ran down on the break, then controlled his body and emotions to post up in the lane, catch a pass in transition, gather himself, pivot and smoothly bank in the shot.
"That just shows how much he's progressed," Hayes said. "Any other time, he'd look to pass it back out. On that play, he had composure."
Less than a minute later, Patrick Sparks collaborated on a fast-break lob dunk with Alleyne. After the game, reporters learned that the two practiced the play repeatedly -- as much as 20 minutes at a time -- in workouts last season.
"I think that had a lot to do with it paying off," Sparks said. 'You've got to get him the ball where he can catch it. I think he has a lot of talent. He knows the game of basketball. But you have to get him the ball in the right spot."
That proved to be about a foot over the rim.
Although the dunk put UK ahead just 48-40, the momentum shift was seismic. Any doubts about the outcome evaporated when Alleyne scored two of UK's next three baskets.
On the first, Hayes rebounded a miss on the baseline, saw Alleyne standing at the front of the rim, and lobbed a pass that the sophomore big man jammed through.
On the second, freshman Rajon Rondo tapped a fast-break pass back to Alleyne, who again stationed himself at the rim. Again, Alleyne jammed it home. Basic, fundamental, and high-percentage to the max.
The surprise was Alleyne outrunning Ball State, which until then had out-quicked UK to loose balls, a factor in staying even with the Cats on the boards (35-35).
"He's always been able to run," Smith said of Alleyne. "He just didn't have the strength. He was timid and weak. He's gone to the weight room, gotten stronger. His conditioning and stamina is better."
Alleyne credited his teammates for helping him play as big as his height. He thanked Smith for the confidence to keep him in the game. A fan novelty a year ago, he almost reluctantly agreed with the suggestion that he can have an impact on a game now.
"I know if I block a shot, my teammates will get hyped," he said. "They tell me that all the time. They feed off me. I feed off the fans. It's like a chain reaction."
Through no fault of his own, Alleyne nearly made a serious misstep after his flurry. At a timeout with 7:35 left, Hayes approached Alleyne with the intention of delivering a congratulatory chest bump. Only 30 seconds earlier Kentucky had taken its first 10-point lead, thanks largely to Alleyne.
"I was hoping he wouldn't jump too," Hayes said of the chest bump. "Because if he did, it would have been, like, chest-head."
No worries this night.