Date story published: Wednesday, January 24, 2001
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Keith Bogans slumped in his chair and stared vacant-eyed at -- what? Kentucky's locker room wall? Kentucky's maddening habit of bumblings at crunch time? Kentucky's dicey status as an NCAA Tournament team?
For the umpteenth time, UK stumbled down the stretch of a game. At Alabama last night, the Cats ran out of lives. Alabama erased a seven-point deficit inside the final six minutes to not only win, but win going away, 70-60.
The way Bogans saw it, UK lost giving away.
"We basically had the game," he said, "and we handed it back to them."
Rod Grizzard, the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer, made sure Kentucky could not claim this wound was entirely self-inflicted. Hampered by foul trouble, Grizzard came off the bench to score the final 11 points of a startling 13-0 Alabama run that erased UK's largest lead -- 54-47 -- and pointed the Tide toward victory.
"I guess that's what I do," Grizzard said. "That's what they look to me for."
Meanwhile, Kentucky's top guns shot blanks. Tayshaun Prince and Bogans shot a combined 1-for-6 in the final six minutes.
"If their game is not raised to an all-time high, we're going to struggle," UK Coach Tubby Smith said quietly.
But Smith did not blame this stinging flashback to UK's early-season stumbles at crunch time on his two big scorers alone. He cited a collapse centered on a team-wide failure to execute mentally or physically when it counted most.
"We just didn't show much toughness down the stretch," the UK coach said. "We started fouling like we were behind. You're never in complete control. But we were in good position. Then we played right into their hands."
Kentucky, now 10-7 overall and 3-2 in the SEC, seemed in good shape when freshman Erik Daniels hit a layup with 5:36 left. Set up by a nifty pass from homecoming king Marvin Stone, Daniels put the Cats ahead 54-47.
Then the freshman made a freshman mistake. He fouled Terrance Meade on the press before Alabama had inbounded the ball.
"I was just trying to hold my ground," Daniels said. "They said I was holding."
Meade's two free throws reduced UK's lead to 54-47. The clock still showed 5:36 left.
After Bogans missed a leaner in the lane, Grizzard signaled the game was not over. Grizzard, who picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench with 12:59 left, returned at the 6:39 mark. When Bogans missed, Grizzard ran downcourt and hit a pull-up three-pointer in transition. Suddenly, UK led only 54-52 as the crowd of 14,434 roared.
"Huge, huge," Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said of Grizzard's shot. "I thought it was the shot of the game. It closed the margin. And the shot didn't necessarily wake up the crowd, but Kentucky had taken the crowd out of the game. That shot brought the emotion back in the building. It was a big, big basket."
It only got louder when a tentative inbounds by Bogans led to a Kentucky turnover. Bogans compounded the problem by fouling on a reach-in against Grizzard. Grizzard, who had not scored in the second half until his clutch three-pointer, hit two free throws to tie it with 4:08 left.
"We fouled when we had the lead, which is pretty disappointing," Smith said.
Down the stretch, UK went scoreless on seven straight possessions, and nine of 10. In that time, an increasingly frantic UK saw Gerald Fitch, Prince and Stone miss shots from the lane.
The cruncher came with Alabama ahead 58-54. Bogans missed a three. Then after Grizzard showed he was human, turning the ball over by slipping on another transition opportunity, Bogans wheeled inside.
But high-flying freshman Gerald Wallace came on help defense and swatted away the shot. That fueled another Grizzard pull-up shot on the break, which completed his run of 11 straight points and gave the Tide a 60-54 lead.
"He was coming off a curl he had come off of four or five times," Wallace said of Bogans. "This time, I made up my mind that I was going to stop him. I could see the determination in his eyes, that he was going to take it to the basket. And I got over there for the block."
For the sixth time in the last seven games, the opponent outrebounded Kentucky. Alabama dominated UK 36-22 on the boards. That enabled the Tide to nullify its 21 turnovers.
Even more maddening, the Cats once again let a lead slip away down the stretch.
Gottfried denied that UK's recent history of stumbling finishes emboldened his team. "We never addressed that," the Alabama coach said. "We studied them, but not to that degree."
But the fumbled finishes dominated Kentucky's post-game thinking.
"We've had a number of games like this," Smith said. "We'd hoped we could learn from those experiences."