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CATS FALL FLAT, 71-60

Date story published: Wednesday, December 23, 1998

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Hard fought, certainly. Also full of pride and the don't-give-up, don't-ever-give-up spirit associated with the late Jim Valvano, whose losing fight against cancer created this charity game.

But last night's Kentucky-Duke game was not the classic fans enjoyed in two earlier meetings this decade.

"It was not about pretty," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the Blue Devils' 71-60 victory in the Jimmy V Classic. "It was tough to get open shots for either team. If you scored, you earned it."

Kentucky, which shot a season-low 34.9 percent, conceded defeat to Duke's smothering man-to-man defensive pressure.

"They really kept us on our heels all night," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "We didn't get shots to drop. Their defense had a lot to do with that. They make you make a difficult shot or a difficult pass. Their defense is predicated on making you make a bad decision."

No. 3 Kentucky (10-2) made more than a few. Duke's eight blocks, a high for a UK opponent this season, and UK's 16 turnovers served as evidence.

Still, reminiscent of last spring's stirring comeback in the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky found itself behind by 16 points in the second half.

But Duke's defense was too tough and UK's shooting too inconsistent to produce another rousing rally. The three-point shot, which fueled UK's comeback in March, failed the Cats here. UK shot 3-for-16 from behind the line. Heshimu Evans, one of UK's better long-distance shooters recently, struggled (1-for-7 on threes, 5-for-16 overall). Still Evans and foul-plagued Scott Padgett led UK with 13 points each. But they needed 24 shots to do it.

No. 2 Duke, now 11-1, from the start played its trademark defense, an aggressive man-to-man. It enabled the Blue Devils to weather a poor start and lead for the game's final 34 minutes.

Kentucky got off to the quicker start. Duke missed its first seven shots. But the Blue Devils, who came into the game shooting 52.9 percent (46 percent from three-point range), were too good not to start making shots.

Elton Brand, who led all scorers with 22 points, got Duke going. He rebounded the seventh straight miss and dunked it home at the 17:02 mark.

Freshman Corey Maggette's three-pointer with 14:03 left gave Duke a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the game.

Kentucky faltered, falling behind by as much as 16-10. But the Cats would not submit. Padgett somehow got a three-point shot to bounce off high off the rim and go in to steady UK.

With Duke on the way to making 14 of its final 20 shots of the half, UK switched from a man-to-man to a 1-2-2 zone with 12 minutes left.

Thanks mostly to Brand inside, Duke handled UK's zone. The Blue Devils extended their first-half lead to as much as 10 points.

"Our inside was a little better than their inside today," Krzyzewski said.

Kentucky closed within five by halftime despite a Duke man-to-man defense that was, in Evans' word, "relentless." With Maggette getting three, Duke blocked six of UK's first-half shots.

More bad news came for Kentucky with 1:19 left in the half when Padgett picked up his third foul. Padgett came over Brand's back for a rebound he had little chance to get and winced when the foul was called.

"It was stupid," Padgett said, "and a big reason they went on a big run (to start the second half). I'm supposed to help with the ball-handling. I got caught up trying to play hard and made a stupid foul."

The first few minutes of the second half put Kentucky in need of a comeback like the one that beat Duke in St. Petersburg.

Duke outscored UK 11-0 to start the second half.

Smith acknowledged the error of his decision to sit Padgett to start the half, going with a Twin Tower tandem of Jamaal Magloire and Mike Bradley. "Obviously, that didn't work," he said.

As the scoring run indicated, little went right for UK and little wrong for Duke in the span.

Chris Carrawell hit a heavily contested three-pointer with one second on the shot clock to give Duke a 48-34 lead. William Avery's fast-break layup with 15:53 left gave Duke its largest lead, 50-34 and sent Jamaal Magloire to the bench with four fouls.

UK missed its first five free throws.

Kentucky's man-to-man defense kept the deficit from growing larger, clawing and scratching as Duke repeatedly fed Brand in the post. Duke made five straight turnovers and went without a basket for more than five minutes.

An ill-timed technical foul on Smith helped Duke. With Padgett about to shoot a one-and-one, Smith got a technical for complaining too much. "I was hollering, 'They're hitting us,' " the UK coach said. Asked whether he was surprised by the technical, Smith said, "Yeah, I really was."

Langdon, a 92.5-percent free thrower this season, made both. That represented Duke's only points from the 15:53 mark until Langdon hit a driving shot with 10:21 left.

Kentucky got as close as eight points twice down the stretch. Each time Brand countered, once with a soft jumper over Bradley and once with a bullish power put-back.

"Brand was outstanding," Krzyzewski said. "Not just offensively. But he gave us such a defensive presence, too."

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