Date story published: Sunday, February 14, 1999
Kentucky proved yesterday that it's possible to win by 34 points and not play especially well.
With an overwhelming superiority in personnel and the homecourt advantage, UK could not avoid beating a one-man team like last-place South Carolina. The Cats won 74-40.
But a halftime tongue-lashing from Coach Tubby Smith and his post-game admission that Kentucky lacked a "great offense" suggested that this victory would never be enshrined in the new UK Basketball Museum.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Then again, the Cats were attempting to play a new style incorporated in the week between games. Of all things, full-court pressure defense and rapid-fire perimeter shooting subdued South Carolina. Afterward, Smith acknowledged that this latest re-tooling of the Cats' style came out of necessity rather than choice.
"We had an excellent defensive effort," Smith said. "We did a great job challenging shots and pressing the ball. That's something we'll have to pick up, because we're not a great offensive team. So we have to concentrate on stopping people the best we can."
Stopping South Carolina was no big deal. The Gamecocks came into the game ranked last among Southeastern Conference teams in scoring (61.2 ppg) and shooting (40.3 percent).
But UK did hold South Carolina to the school's lowest points total in nine years of SEC play.
"Our offensive woes continue," South Carolina Coach Eddie Fogler said. "We just can't find ways to score. (All-league guard BJ) McKie can't do it by himself."
The surprise was that Kentucky did not grab this game by the throat until the second half. The Cats took charge only after Smith directed some red-hot halftime rhetoric at his team.
"I could hear Tubby at halftime, literally hear him through the walls," Fogler said. "He was quite upset with his team. They played a lot better in the second half."
Kentucky (20-6, 9-3 ) pressed harder in the second half. The Cats simply played with more intensity. "I challenged Scott (Padgett), 'Mu (Heshimu Evans) and Wayne (Turner), especially Scott and 'Mu, to come out with more defensive intensity," Smith said.
Surprisingly, the attacking defense was not a halftime adjustment.
"We wanted that from the start," Smith said. "We just weren't playing it as hard as we'd like. We've always wanted that. We need more energy and more effort to play that way."
Kentucky outscored South Carolina 41-17 in the second half. The Cats limited the Gamecocks to 6-for-32 shooting in the second half.
Offensively, Kentucky got three-point happy in the decisive second half. The Cats took 18 three-point shots after halftime en route to 28 shots from beyond the line, the second highest total in the Smith era (UK took 32 three-point shots against Florida here last season).
Again, the three-point shots came more out of necessity than strength.
"We're not a great offensive team, so we've got to get it on the board and then go rebound," the UK coach said. "We can be a good rebounding team."
A moment later, Smith made sure to note that he did not mean to suggest that UK lacked sufficient offense. "We're second in the league in scoring," he said. (Actually, the Cats' average of 75.2 points coming into the game ranked sixth among SEC teams.)
"We just don't have the (offensive) weapons we've had in the past," he said. "We don't have great outside shooting. We've got to make up for it in other ways."
For instance, with spirited and enthusiastic play.
Smith credited Turner for getting Kentucky off to a good start. The senior point guard scored nine of his 11 points in the first half. His fast-break layup was part of a 10-0 UK run to start the game.
"Wayne really set a tone for us," Smith said. "He came out hitting shots and playing with great energy. He's the one who makes the team go. When he's playing well, we're hard to beat."
Said Turner: "My whole mindset going into the game was to try to spark the team and get them going offensively and defensively."
Kentucky did not sustain the initiative and led only 33-23 at halftime.
Early in the second half, Evans set an offensive tone. He matched his six first-half shots in the first five minutes of the second half. His two baskets contributed to a 13-4 UK run to start the second half.
"In the second half, we didn't play tentatively," Evans said. "We want to get back to pressing - we used to press a lot - so we can create fast-break opportunities, so we can get our point total a little higher."
Padgett, who led a balanced attack with 13 points, saw the pressure defense as a method to improve UK's offensive production.
"When we create turnovers off the press, we're going to be getting easy shots," he said. "When we get easy shots, that builds confidence. Then you might take tougher shots and hit them when you're on a roll."