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TIDE TOPPLE COLD CATS

Date story published: Sunday, January 27, 2002

Alabama came into Rupp Arena with losses in 23 of its last 26 Southeastern Conference road games.

Kentucky boasted a traditional aura of invincibility at home.

So what happened last night?

Despite a choking dose of blue-drenched Cat-mosphere, Alabama came close to leading wire to wire in a hotly competitive game. And at crunch time, the Tide outperformed UK to claim a 64-61 victory.

"The numbers say it is an upset," Alabama star Rod Grizzard said. "But between the two teams, we should have come out a winner."

Alabama, which improved to 17-3 overall and a Southeastern Conference-best 5-1, trailed for only two minutes and 38 seconds.

Kentucky's willingness -- almost eagerness -- to take long shots contributed mightily to this long-shot result. UK put up 30 three-point shots, its second highest total of the season.

"Pretty much a lot," said UK All-America candidate Tayshaun Prince, who extended his recent shooting slump by making only five of 15 shots (one of eight from three-point range).

The Cats made only seven threes. Keith Bogans hit only one of six.

"Coach felt if we could keep them out of the middle, we could live with them taking jump shots," said reserve point guard Antoine Pettway, a former walk-on who burned UK with 13 points.

Kentucky repeatedly settled for outside shots early in each half. That contributed to slow starts: no baskets until the 15:14 mark of the first half and the 13:47 mark of the second. In those spans, the Cats shot 0-for-15.

UK, which fell to 13-5 overall and 3-3 in the SEC, still had a chance to will itself to victory. All the Cats needed was to outplay Alabama in the final two minutes.

"Alabama did a super job making plays coming down the stretch," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "In the end, it's all about making clutch plays. We had our chances."

Until Gerald Fitch's three-pointer with 1.6 seconds left set the final margin, Kentucky scored only once in the final 1:49. Prince hit a driving layup while being fouled. His three-point play put the Cats ahead 58-57 with 1:49 left. That marked UK's first lead since beginning the second half ahead 31-29.

Alabama answered pretty as you please 29 seconds later. Heralded freshman point guard Mo Williams drove by Fitch, UK's best perimeter defender, for a layup.

"What killed us was their point guards," Smith said. "I don't know what Gerald was doing. He just let the guy by. I don't know where the post players were (to contest Williams at the basket). That's what I mean by execution and making big stops. We've just not been able to do that. It's been a problem all year."

Fitch said the crowd's anxious roar prevented him from hearing freshman Chuck Hayes' warning about a screen.

After Prince missed his patented baby hook from the right block, Alabama expanded its lead to 60-58 on Erwin Dudley's free throw. Dudley led all scorers with 16 points.

Kentucky called time with 38.1 seconds left. The ensuing sequence may be hard to forget.

The three players averaging double-digit points -- Prince, Bogans and Estill -- all got their hands on the ball. But no shot was taken.

"Everybody that was supposed to touch the ball touched the ball," Smith said.

Prince drove into the lane from the left side, then passed to Bogans, who stood on the right side of the lane.

"Once I got in the paint, I stepped on a guy's foot," Prince said. "I just wanted to get it out of my hands before the ref called traveling. Keith was the first guy in my face."

Bogans started up, then decided to pass. Prince second-guessed his running mate's decision.

"Yeah," Prince said. "He should have gotten it up. Then 'Queese' (Marquis Estill) could have tipped it in. Or if he missed, I could have gotten in position to rebound."

"I was going to shoot it," Bogans said. "Two guys jumped at me. Why shoot a shot that has the chance to be blocked when I saw (Estill)."

Bogans made a five-foot, high-low entry pass to Estill. Alabama quickly bodied Estill under the basket, leaving him no option but to pass back into traffic. Grizzard came out of the pack with the ball.

" 'Queese' was too far under the basket," said Prince, who noted matter-of-factly that Alabama pushed Estill out of position. "You don't get too many calls at the end of a game. They pretty much let you play in do-or-die situations."

Smith, who acknowledged "a lot of contact," also saw another example of a season-long concern: a lack of toughness.

"No. 1, you've got to be strong enough to hold your position under the basket," the UK coach said.

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