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FIRED-UP SMITH IGNITES CATS

Date story published: Sunday, January 17, 1999

OXFORD, Miss. - As the final buzzer sounded, Tubby Smith raised two clenched fists into the air. Then he pumped those fists a couple of times.

Has a Kentucky basketball coach ever been so happy, so relieved to beat Ole Miss? Make that an Ole Miss team forced to play without its injured senior point guard.

Smith exulted in UK's 63-57 victory yesterday probably because of the sheer effort it took to achieve. En route to victory, the Cats had to overcome:

* The first-half benching of its leading scorer/rebounder, Scott Padgett.

* A scoreless game from its senior point guard, Wayne Turner.

* A technical foul on Jamaal Magloire that benched UK's starting center for the final 16 minutes.

The UK players credited their coach for the strategy and passion that produced a much-needed come-from-behind victory. Still stinging from Tuesday's loss to Tennessee and trailing at halftime, Smith made the switch to a zone defense that shut down Ole Miss star Keith Carter. Maybe more important, he spurred UK's effort by being more animated along the sideline and borderline destructive in his halftime rhetoric.

A person standing 30 feet from the locker room door at halftime clearly could hear Smith scream, "When I say screen, I mean SCREEN!"

Then came a banging sound. "They might have to repair a blackboard," said Padgett, who sounded ready to pay the bill. "The more emotion we play with, the better we play. He got us going emotionally, and we fed off that."

A family affair fueled UK's 15th victory in 19 games (the Cats improved to 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference). The coach's son, Saul Smith, scored a career-high 17 points. Fittingly, he had the game's biggest basket, an improbable leaner in which he drove down the left side of the lane, then turned back to the right in the air and flipped in the ball.

The shot made up in importance what it lacked in style. Ole Miss had reduced Kentucky's largest lead, 55-46, to 55-51 when Smith scored with 1:45 left.

"That was a big, big shot," the UK coach said. "I'm just happy it went in, because he just threw it up there."

Padgett smiled at the recollection of the shot and saslug"Let's just say my comment is I ran really hard to the glass. I haven't seen him make that one before."

Saul Smith acknowledged that he improvised the clinching shot. "It's not a shot I work on too often," he said. "The running away from the basket, turning around and throwing it up there. But it went in. Somehow."

For Ole Miss, which lost only its third game in the last 47 at home, the shot was a dagger to the Rebels' considerable heart.

"We had a good possession, defended well," first-year coach Rod Barnes said. "(Smith) takes a tough shot and makes it. If he misses it, we've got a chance to win the game."

In a sense, Ole Miss' best player controlled both halves. Carter, who led all scorers with 18 points, scored 13 of the Rebels' first 19 points.

That surge caused Smith to bench Padgett, who failed to pick up Carter on a back-door cut.

"Our whole goal in the first half was not to let him touch the ball," Padgett said. "Letting him get a dunk is not keeping him from touching the ball. Coach let me sit and think about it."

Padgett went to the bench with 15:40 left in the first half and did not return until the 4:47 mark.

With UK behind 34-31 at halftime, Smith decided to try a 2-3 zone to contain Carter. Ole Miss did not score a basket until 10:10 remained in the game and did not score a basket off its set offense until only 2:42 remained.

"Obviously we couldn't guard him in a man-to-man," the UK coach said of Carter. "He was going back-door and getting wide open, getting layups. He really dictated what defense we went to.

"It's the first time I think, in my eight years of coaching, I played strictly zone in the second half. It paid off for us."

Carter, who scored only five second-half points, had faced several box-and-one defenses this season. He lauded UK's zone. "With three 6-10 guys down low, it's tough to get loose, much less score," he said.

Ole Miss got off only 18 shots and committed 14 turnovers in the second half. The Rebels lamented the loss of Michael White, whose streak of 95 consecutive starts got snapped because he sprained an ankle Wednesday against Auburn.

"Michael knows what it takes to beat Kentucky," Carter said. "He's done it twice. But I'm not saying we would have won (with White)."

Kentucky did not take the lead for good until Padgett hit a three-pointer with 9:37 left. It was the first of his three baskets.

It was also one of only two baskets UK scored from outside the paint in the second half. Saul Smith's awkward clincher was the other, as the Cats exploited their size advantage.

"They came out (the second half) and realized they'd better get something going," Carter said of UK. He stopped short of saying UK played harder in the second half. "I don't know about that," he said. "They hit the big shots, like Saul Smith's shot. We didn't."

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