Date story published: Sunday, March 13, 2005
ATLANTA -- His team trailing by one point with only 16.4 seconds left in overtime, Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith wasn't sure what play to run.
"I looked at Chuck," he said, meaning senior leader Chuck Hayes, and thought of Kentucky's mangled execution at the end of the loss at Florida last weekend.
Maybe the second time would be the charm. So Smith called for the same play -- labeled "46" in UK's playbook -- when the make-or-break moment came against Louisiana State in a gut-churning Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinal game yesterday.
"We're going to get it right this time," Smith said.
Fellow senior Josh Carrier noticed Hayes' reaction. "Chuck's eyes lit up," he said.
After scoring the winning basket in UK's 79-78 victory over LSU, Hayes acknowledged "a little bit" of surprise at Smith's decision. At Florida, he lined up on the wrong side of the court, a reason the Cats got only an off-balance Kelenna Azubuike three-point shot.
Hayes' performance against LSU added to the mystery of the call. He had made only two of nine shots and been outplayed by LSU power forward Brandon Bass, the SEC's reigning player of the year.
How the players reacted to the call of "46" convinced Smith it was the right decison. "Chuck said, 'Let's run it,' " the UK coach said. " 'Let's do it right.' They were so positive. I knew they were excited."
"He drew it up," Bobby Perry said of Smith. "But he didn't have to draw it up."
Unlike at Florida, Hayes moved his man into position to be screened by Patrick Sparks. Against LSU, that meant Sparks had to screen Glen "Big Baby" Davis, eight inches taller and 130 pounds heavier than the UK guard.
"I looked over to see who was guarding Chuck," said Sparks, not able to contain a smile at the memory of seeing Davis. "I knew it was going to hurt for a minute."
But Sparks, always the feisty competitor, got in Davis' path as Big Baby crossed the lane with Hayes. "I should have felt the screen," Davis said, "and gotten over it."
Like dominoes falling in sequence, Sparks' screen freed Hayes to post up on the right side. Rajon Rondo fed him the ball. Hayes rolled immediately to the hoop and banked in a left-handed layup with 7.9 seconds left.
"I just told myself, 'Don't wait, go!' " Hayes said.
LSU reserve Ross Neltner, the Fort Thomas native and former Kentucky Mr. Basketball, called UK's winning play "something we hadn't seen. They caught us on our heels."
In a sense, he was right. The Cats had not run the play, at least not correctly.
"It was such a quick-hitter," Neltner said. "The out-of-bounds pass, Rajon takes one dribble and feeds the post."
LSU, which sent the game into overtime on an off-balance 18-footer by Bass at the buzzer, did not get much of a counter to Hayes' shot. Point guard Tack Minor rushed downcourt, penetrated into UK's converging defense and weakly got a shot to the underside of the rim.
Fittingly, Hayes grabbed the rebound, then bounded around the court, shouting in exultation.
Free-throw shooting factored large in Kentucky's rally from a five-point deficit with less than two minutes left in overtime.
Sparks, who scored 17 points, hit a three-pointer from the left corner to reduce UK's deficit to 78-76 with 1:36 left.
Davis, a 71.2 percent free-thrower, missed two shots with 39.1 seconds left.
Azubuike, who led the Cats with 19 points, made one free throw with 23.6 seconds left to make it 78-77. When Azubuike missed the second, Hayes beat Davis to the deflected rebound, giving Smith a chance to call "46" again.
"I don't know him, but he's got to be a tough-minded guy to do what he's able to do," LSU Coach John Brady said of Hayes, who finished with eight points and seven rebounds. "When the game was there, he was there. ...
"Chuck Hayes was the difference in the end. That's why he's an all-SEC player even when his stat line is not that impressive."