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ESTILL STEALS CENTER STAGE

Date story published: Sunday, March 18, 2001

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- It's oh so rare for a team to have a productive third-string center.

That luxury helped Kentucky beat Iowa 92-79 last night in the NCAA Tournament.

UK's third-string center, Marquis Estill, came to the rescue when it looked like Iowa's big man, Reggie Evans, might single-handedly produce an upset.

Estill scored a career-high 22 points (his first double-digit scoring game since Jan. 31) and contained Evans for much of the game.

With Tayshaun Prince scoring a career-high 31 points (21 in the second half), Kentucky zoomed into the East Region semifinals Thursday in Philadelphia. The Cats will play Southern California, which beat region third seed Boston College in yesterday's other game here.

"You know, we knew Prince was a great player and we didn't have an answer for him," Iowa Coach Steve Alford said. "And even with that, I thought the difference was Estill."

After Estill failed to score a point or grab a rebound in the first round, he did not figure to loom big in Iowa's game plan. No doubt he was a non-factor in the media's pre-game hype machinery. Estill had the misfortune of sitting between celebrated teammates Keith Bogans and Saul Smith as the media conducted interviews Friday. As packs of reporters crowded around Bogans and Smith, Estill slumped in his stall either fast asleep or lost in music playing on his earphones.

"I wasn't asleep," he said. "I was just laid back and trying to relax."

Later that night, Estill worked himself into a state of readiness. He did it, he said, by watching the movie Remember the Titans.

"Something got to me," Estill said. "I felt good and had a lot of energy."

UK (24-9) needed one of its big men to play well because Evans' early domination got Iowa off to a great start. The Hawkeyes' center, the nation's leading rebounder, had 10 points and four rebounds barely eight minutes into the game.

That production started Evans toward his 22nd double-double of the season (18 points and 13 rebounds). More importantly, it helped the Hawkeyes lead by as much as nine points early.

Worse for the Cats, Evans looked like he could chew up and spit out UK's post players. Starter Jason Parker went out with two fouls at the 16:45 mark. Backup Marvin Stone got little done (no points, one rebound in the first half).

Kentucky then turned to Estill when the game broke for a TV timeout with 11:53 left. The third center was the charm.

Estill poured in a team-high 11 points and grabbed five rebounds. Maybe more importantly, Evans did not score again the rest of the half.

Five straight Estill points allowed Kentucky to chip away at the Iowa lead. The Cats took the lead for the first time when freshman Gerald Fitch stripped the ball from Duez Henderson and then took a pass from Prince for a fast-break layup. That put UK ahead 29-28 with 6:07 left.

"You know, he had 22 points in 22 minutes," Alford said of Estill. "He really hurt us. We made them go to their bench early. Unfortunately, their third guy really worked for them."

Meanwhile, UK's defense -- mostly a matchup zone -- nearly shut out the Hawkeyes. Iowa scored only one basket in the final 9:30 of the half. That was a three-pointer by freshman Brody Boyd off an inbounds pass and over the outstretched hand of Prince.

After Boyd's three-pointer tied it at 33, Kentucky scored the final 12 points of the half to take a 45-33 lead.

Estill had the last six: an old-fashioned three-point play (rebound putback and free throw) and a three-pointer from the top of the key. The three-pointer was only his second since the Indiana game on Dec. 22.

"The rims are nice out there," said Estill, who made nine of 11 shots and grabbed six rebounds.

In the first half, Estill outscored (11-10) and nearly outrebounded (5-6) Evans, the Outstanding Player in the Big Ten Tournament.

Estill credited the challenge of going against Evans as a factor in his performance.

"I just wanted to bang with him and prove to him he wasn't going to outwork me or outhustle me," Estill said.

The game fit the pattern of Estill being most productive when going against a highly regarded center or front line. His previous career-high of 19 points first came against North Carolina 7-footer Brendon Haywood.

"They don't really come down and trap," he said. "It's easier to get things going."

Iowa, which rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to beat Creighton in the first round, did not fold. The Hawkeyes got within 45-41 at the 18:31 mark.

Point guard Dean Oliver, who scored Iowa's first eight points of the half and finished with 26, hit a three-pointer off the fast break to reduce the lead to four.

But Prince, UK's first-round hero, countered. He hit a pull-up flip shot in the lane to ease the tension. Then after an Iowa free throw, Prince hit a pretty fast-break shot after spinning 360 degrees to free himself from two defenders.

The shot put Kentucky ahead 49-42. Despite Oliver's 23 second-half points (which included six three-pointers), Estill made sure Iowa got no closer.

When the Hawkeyes closed to within 51-44, Estill made a textbook dunk off the low post. He held Evans off with one arm while receiving the pass and turning strongly to the rim.

No Iowa comebacks this night.

"Evans asked me, 'This had to be the best game Marquis has played all year,' " UK guard Keith Bogans said. "I said, 'Nah. He plays this way whenever he gets up and gets ready to play.' "

Estill, who said his knees feel fine, acknowledged that he probably did not factor big in Iowa's game plan.

"They probably didn't know too much about me," he said. "A lot of teams don't. That's why I wanted to come out and do the things I did."

The performance certainly should have put UK's opponent Thursday, Southern Cal, on notice.

"I think he'll be in USC's scouting report," Blevins said. "I'll tell you that."

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