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PADGETT'S CLUTCH THREES LIFT UK PAST MIAMI

Date story published: Sunday, December 6, 1998

Kentucky forward Scott Padgett thanked everybody except basketball inventor James Naismith.

* Managers Kevin Murphy and Jason Seamands for shagging balls when he got in extra shooting practice last week.

* Former teammate Jeff Sheppard for reminding him to stay positive.

* Himself for maintaining self-confidence despite enough mounting evidence to turn Norman Vincent Peale into Woody Allen.

All got credit for making Leonard Hamilton's homecoming more memorable as the return of Padgett's long lost shooting touch.

Padgett's string of consecutive misses from three-point range reached 18 yesterday. Then he hit three treys down the stretch to help Kentucky outlast Miami 74-65.

The first - from the top of the key after he set a pick and then got in position for a pass - gave UK the lead for good, 52-49, with 9:54 left.

"I just needed that one to go down," Padgett said. "It was like my slump or whatever would be over. Sort of like, I'm ready to go now. I felt I could make every shot."

He nearly did.

Barely a minute later, Padgett made a three-pointer from the left side to put the Cats ahead 55-50.

The third established UK's largest lead, 67-57, with 2:26 left.

Padgett's only three-point miss in the second half was a desperation 25-foot heave to beat the shot clock. It nearly went in, bouncing off the back of the rim.

Suddenly the player who hadn't made a three-pointer since the Nov. 17 opener against Eastern Kentucky thought he couldn't miss.

"I can't remember shooting that bad," Padgett said of his 18 straight misses. "I knew in Puerto Rico that my (right) wrist was bothering me. I wasn't too concerned with it then."

He admitted concern when he missed his only three-point shot against Kansas on Tuesday.

"You start thinking what do you need to do?" Padgett said before adding a moment later, "I knew I'd get over it. I'm too good a shooter not to."

Kentucky (7-1) needed Padgett's outside shot against Miami. Hamilton, a former UK assistant coach, had the Hurricanes prepared and ready. Led by all-Big East player Tim James (22 points and 10 rebounds), Miami did not trail until only 1:54 remained in the first half.

Mike Bradley, who led UK with 19 points, had a three-point play to put the Cats ahead 31-29.

Padgett's outside shot found a most opportune time to return: A game tied at 49-49 with less than 10 minutes left.

With the shot clock inside the final 10 seconds, UK ran its routine end-of-game play: "Power." Padgett set a pick at the top of the key for the point guard, then prepared to receive a pass. It came and he launched the ball with two seconds on the shot clock.

Asked what he thought when Padgett made the shot, UK Coach Tubby Smith said, "Relieved.

"Because he was really struggling. I was happy for him and for the team because we need him to start scoring. In this type of game we expect Scott to step forward and take charge. And he did. It's what he's capable of doing. It was just a matter of time until he broke out of it."

Like throwing a stone into a pond and watching the ripple spread outward, Smith noted a beneficial effect for all UK players when Padgett started making outside shots.

"I could feel the guys feeling more confidence knowing he was playing better," Smith said. "We'd like the ball to go to him. He just doesn't make many mistakes when we put the ball in his hands."

For Miami (2-2), it was another curious example of a slumping opponent finding its offense against the defensive-minded Hurricanes.

"I don't know what it is," Hamilton said, laughing. "We went to North Carolina-Charlotte. They'd been shooting something like 19 percent from the three-point line. They went crazy against us.

"Padgett just stepped up. He's a senior. Mature. The game was on the line. He's been to war. He stepped up with confidence and made plays."

Hamilton credited Kentucky for outplaying Miami in the second half, especially down the stretch.

"They did to us what we intended to do to them in terms of reversing the ball and being patient," he said. "Our guys were a little more emotional than we should have been."

Still, Miami used its quickness and physical defense to stay close. UK led only 67-63 with more than 40 seconds left when another senior, Heshimu Evans, made a game-saving play.

After freshman Tayshaun Prince missed the front end of a one-and-one, Evans grabbed the rebound from James and scored while being fouled.

The put-back basket sealed a victory built on Padgett's re-emergence as an outside scoring threat.

"Obviously, I'm supposed to be one of the leaders of the team," Padgett said. "If I'm struggling, the team is going to struggle. I have to pick up my play. Even if I don't shoot well in the next game, I need to keep my level of play high for the team to do well."

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