Date story published: Friday, November 10, 2000
NEW YORK -- It was the earliest opening game in the history of both schools' storied basketball programs. Neither had even the usual pre-season preparation.
Throw in Kentucky and St. John's starting a combined four freshmen. So, of course, it was almost as chaotic as the Al Gore-George W. Bush presidential race.
But in the case of Kentucky's 62-61 loss to St. John's last night, it's doubtful anyone would call for a recount, er, replay.
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In a discouraging throwback to last season, Kentucky shot poorly from the perimeter. The Cats made only three shots outside the lane.
UK also had 20-plus turnovers.
Worse, the Cats squandered a four-point lead in the final eight seconds.
After a Tayshaun Prince free throw put UK ahead 61-57, St. John's got within 61-59 on Anthony Glover's rebound dunk.
On the ensuing inbounds, freshman Willie Shaw tipped the ball away from Prince. It deflected off Prince out of bounds with 6.4 seconds left.
After each team called a timeout, St. John's won it on an inbounds play. Glover came off a screen, took an inbounds pass from freshman Omar Cook and laid in a shot while being fouled by UK freshman Jason Parker.
Glover's free throw with five seconds left won it.
St. John's advanced to tonight's championship game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The Red Storm will play Kansas, which beat UCLA 99-98 in the other game.
Kentucky, which can look to Duke last season for hope, will play UCLA in the consolation game (6:37 p.m. tipoff). Duke lost both games here last season, then reeled off 18 straight victories en route to a No. 1 ranking going into the NCAA Tournament.
Going into the season, Kentucky billed itself as a running, pressing team that would bring a renewed excitement to Rupp Arena. It didn't happen against St. John's. The Cats did not shoot well enough to get their press on much.
As a result, UK failed to match last season's average of 69.1 points, the school's fewest since the 1986-87 season.
Kentucky led St. John's 31-28 at halftime and had reason to think a chance for a much softer cushion had been missed.
The Cats dominated inside and had many more free-throw opportunities. It also helped that St. John's showed its youth with its turnover total reaching double digits barely 12 minutes into the game.
An old bugaboo from last season -- poor perimeter shooting -- helped prevent UK from taking total command. The Cats made only one three-point shot in the half -- a no-hesitation, feathery swish from the top of the key by Marquis Estill with 5:40 left. It gave UK a 22-21 lead.
But at this opening-night juncture, Kentucky was not able to put the opponent into a deep hole.
As if this was just a continuation of last season, St. John's opened in a zone defense that invited UK to shoot from the perimeter. UK did plenty of shooting, but only one of nine first-half shots from beyond the three-point arc went in.
St. John's may have opened in a zone to protect its undersized front line. While missing from the perimeter, UK made good use of its offensive rebounding. The Cats grabbed 12 offensive rebounds in the first half. That played a big part in helping Kentucky enjoy a 27-16 edge on the boards.
UK's first three baskets came off offensive rebounds.
The makings of a sizable lead by halftime appeared in the making.
St. John's, which started three freshmen, committed 11 first-half turnovers. Cook showed his age with four.
The whistle favored Kentucky, too. The Cats first shot the one-and-one with 11:34 left in the half and entered the double bonus (two shots on every trip to the line) at the 6:20 mark.
By contrast, St. John's shot only one free throw.
But UK failed to fully exploit that advantage, making only eight of 16 free throws.
Estill, one of UK's brightest stars in the pre-season, showed that was no fluke. His 11 points led UK in the first half.
Maybe more importantly, his two-minute flash of versatility not only gave UK the lead but showcased how he might be a force this season.
On the next possession following his three-pointer, Estill curled off a screen and dunked a lob in-bounds pass from Prince.
Barely a minute later, Estill knifed into the lane and put up a soft leaner that went in while he was being fouled.
Those plays helped UK build its largest first-half lead, 29-23 with 3:04 left.
Kentucky's second basket from outside the paint seemed to signal a pivotal period of the game. With the score tied at 37, Saul Smith swished a three-pointer from the top of the key a moment after Estill had his post-up shot blocked. Knocked to the floor on the shot, Smith made the free throw to put UK ahead by four points with 14:21 left. It was his first points of the game.
Barely two minutes later, Cook crumpled to the floor in pain. He apparently landed awkwardly as he lost control of the ball on a drive with 12:03 left. Two teammates carried him to the bench.
But St. John's hung tough. Or maybe Kentucky could not capitalize on the momentum shift at this stage of the season.