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CLOSE COUNTS FOR KENTUCKY

Date story published: Wednesday, January 3, 2001

LOUISVILLE -- Two new developments marked last night's latest installment of the "Dream Game."

Kentucky won a close game.

And Louisville lost a close game.

UK, which had lost five games by a total of 14 points, went against what horse racing calls "past performances" by making big plays at crunch time.

Or maybe Louisville, which had lost four games by 22 or more points, played what Denny Crum termed its best game of the season. "We haven't played this hard all season," he said.

It wasn't quite enough as UK won 64-62.

UK showed it could make clutch plays. But the Cats, now 6-5, also squandered some of the feel-good glow by letting a 10-point lead slip away in the final 4:07.

"I didn't think we did a good job finishing the game, which we've had a problem with," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "A lot had to do with Louisville. They did a good job defensively, extending their defense. It kept us confused. We'd set up to do one thing and they'd be in a different defense."

Guard Reece Gaines, who scored a career-high 27 points, tied the game with back-to-back three-pointers in the final 99 seconds. Those bombs sandwiched UK point guard Saul Smith coming up painfully short on the front end of a one-and-one free throw with 1:30 left.

Gaines' second three-pointer tied it 62-62 with 58.4 seconds left. UK called time with 48 seconds left to map a strategy.

UK's plan fizzled. With five seconds left on the shot clock, Tayshaun Prince got the ball from freshman Gerald Fitch.

"He didn't know where the shot clock was," Prince said of Fitch. "As soon as he passed to me, I saw five seconds on the clock. I knew I could get at least two dribbles."

After the first dribble left Prince about 25 feet from the basket, U of L swingman Luke Whitehead inexplicably shoved the UK player. Referee Bob Donato called the hand-check, which sent Prince to the line with 26.5 seconds left. Prince, who's often noted that referees do not like to make calls at crunch time, made both.

"It was too obvious," Prince said of Whitehead's hand-check. "The guy didn't use one hand. He had two hands on me."

U of L had two chances to tie it or win the game outright. On the first, the Cards hoped to set up Gaines for a three-pointer. But Erik Brown, the Bryan Station graduate who transferred from Morehead State, slipped momentarily. That threw off the timing.

"It worked perfect," Gaines said. "If Erik only hadn't slipped. I was wide open. And the way I was shooting (10-for-14, 5-for-8 from three-point range), I'd have felt good about the chances of it going in."

Instead, Louisville worked the ball around to where Brown had to launch a three-pointer with four seconds left.

After a scramble, the ball went out of bounds off UK. Out of timeouts, U of L freshman forward Ellis Myles grew desperate as UK blanketed Gaines. Finally, Myles threw an inbounds pass high over Gaines and out of bounds.

All UK had to do to win was safely inbounds the ball. Of course, the Cats needed only that to ice a victory against St. John's in the season's opener. That night, a deflected pass and an incorrect call that it went off Prince gave the ball back to St. John's.

Against Louisville, an eerily similar inbounds unfolded. This time, Prince caught Saul Smith's inbounds pass.

When asked about the near-replay of the St. John's finish, Prince said with a smile, "I wouldn't say it popped into my head. But I heard about it from the sideline."

Given the leading scorer second-guessing Crum last weekend, Louisville seemed especially vulnerable to discouragement. Then maybe the Cards would duplicate last year's surrender less than 10 minutes into the second half.

All Kentucky seemingly needed was a fast start.

Instead, Louisville had all the momentum in the first four minutes and probably was emboldened to the point of thinking of victory. After a turnover on its first possession, U of L scored on its next six trips downcourt. That blitz left Kentucky behind 14-4.

"Our intensity wasn't there," Prince said. "Their intensity was way above ours."

Louisville sliced and diced UK's man-to-man defense early.

When UK switched to a zone at the first television timeout (the 15:40 mark), the Cats' anxiety lessened and the game shifted dramatically. U of L made only one of its next 11 shots. That meant only one basket in a nine-minute stretch.

UK outscored U of L 15-4 to take a 19-16 lead.

Prince began the turnaround with a three-pointer from the top of the key. During the run, Saul Smith hit his first three-point shot in five career games in Freedom Hall. Marvin Stone capped the run with a 15-footer at the 8:50 mark.

With Louisville looking inept, a comfortable halftime lead for Kentucky seemed likely. The Cards made only five of 22 shots after their quick start. Worse was the kind of misplays.

Back-to-back plays were particularly painful for Louisville. Pressured by a dwindling shot clock, Myles went up for a shot and came down with the ball: up and down it was called in the playground. On the next possession, senior reserve Rashad Brooks tried a fast-break lob for Marques Maybin. The lob was too high and went off Maybin's outstretched hand out of bounds.

UK could not put Louisville away down the stretch of the first half. The Cats made only one basket in the final 3:57.

Myles' layup out of scramble with one second left set the halftime score: UK 29, U of L 27.

Kentucky appeared to have Louisville reeling early in the second half. The Cats scored the first nine points to take their first double-digit lead, 38-27.

A Bogans three-pointer on the fast break boosted the lead to 41-29 with 15:50 left.

Unlike last season, U of L kept competing.

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