Date story published: Wednesday, November 22, 2000
CINCINNATI -- Thanks, Jacksonville State. Kentucky needed that.
Needing a pick-me-up after the 0-2 start in New York, Kentucky buried outmanned J-State 91-48 last night.
"A game we obviously feel came at the right time on the schedule," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "We needed a game we could feel good about."
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Kentucky did what good teams are supposed to do against opponents at No. 265 in the Sagarin ratings and playing for a financial guarantee. The Cats let it be known that they want to be taken seriously by making their game against Jacksonville State a laugher.
Smith noted the tonic effect that's possible.
"Mentally and psychologically, this will be a real boost for us," the UK coach said. "Everybody who played feels better about themselves because they had a chance to play. And that's contagious."
Kentucky, 1-2 heading into Saturday's home opener against Penn State, got a long look at players who might not play much against stiffer competition. For instance, freshman Cory Sears entered in the game in the first half. Walk-on Matt Heissenbuttel came in with 8:21 left.
Maybe better still, UK got solid performances from its leaders. Despite the undermanned opposition, Keith Bogans, Tayshaun Prince and Saul Smith looked active and involved from the start. Each maintained a business-like approach to the demolition.
The trio "came out focused and very determined that we were going to execute both offensively and defensively," Tubby Smith said approvingly. "They were very serious-minded because they know we have a chance to be a very good team. They understand we had a wake-up call. We had our bell rung pretty good in New York."
The UK coach's only complaint involved the extended eight-minute garbage time that capped the mismatch. Several of UK's 18 turnovers came down the stretch. Twice, excitable freshman point guard Cliff Hawkins lost the ball while trying, perhaps too hard, to apply the coup de grace.
"You don't want that type of thing at the end, behind the back," Tubby Smith said. "You don't need that. Cliff doing his little ... . They're trying to bring attention to 'me' instead of 'team.' That's not the way to play basketball at the University of Kentucky. That's an area we'll get straight."
Jacksonville State (0-3) surpassed its previous average of 29 turnovers with 9:08 left to play. The Gamecocks finished with 33 turnovers and only three assists.
How lopsided was it?
Kentucky almost had as many dunks (five) as Jacksonville State had baskets (six) in the first half. And UK would have matched J-State's basket total with dunks had Keith Bogans not somehow missed a fast-break slam in the final two minutes.
No worries this night as UK rolled to a 42-17 halftime lead.
"It's a tough time to sit there for 40 minutes and watch a team dominate your team," said first-year Jacksonville State coach Mike LaPlante, a former Auburn assistant. "But hopefully we'll learn from it."
A dunk-you-very-much series of baskets got Kentucky off to a good start. Four straight UK baskets came on dunks in the first six minutes. Freshman strong man Jason Parker had three slams as UK made six of its first seven shots.
The dominance led Tubby Smith to experiment early. Barely seven minutes into the game, he went with a lineup of three freshmen (Hawkins, Gerald Fitch and Erik Daniels), plus sophomore Marvin Stone and junior J.P. Blevins.
Later, Prince played center for a spell as UK matched its smaller opponent.
What little doubt existed about which team would win disappeared late in the first half. The Cats scored the final 12 points of the half, then tacked on the first 14 points of the second half. That put UK ahead 56-17 with 16:10 to go.
The only mysteries that remained were:
* Would Jacksonville State commit more turnovers than it got off shots? No, although the Gamecocks had 27 turnovers and 31 shots with less than 12 minutes left.
* Would UK finish with more dunks than J-State had baskets? No, although UK finished with seven dunks to J-State's 15 baskets.
* Would anyone get hurt? No.
Except for Bogans, it was just what UK desired.
"I prefer it not to be fun," he said. "It was easy. I prefer a harder-type game."
Those will come, a reason why Tubby Smith welcomed this breather and confidence boost.