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CATS PLAY FLAT IN MUSIC CITY

Date story published: Thursday, February 28, 2002

NASHVILLE -- Vanderbilt ended its historic streak of futility against Kentucky last night.

But despite an Enron-sized crash of its twin pillars of strength (defense and rebounding), UK did not lose its chances at a Southeastern Conference Tournament bye while losing to Vandy, 86-73.

Led by reserve point guard Brendan Plavich, Vandy made 11 three-pointers in its first victory over UK since 1993. The Commodores made 53.6 percent of their shots against a UK defense that held previous SEC opponents to 40.4 percent.

"We didn't stop anybody," UK leader Tayshaun Prince said. "How can we expect to get a win?"

The UK camp questioned its effort, or at the least its inability to match Vandy's Senior Night zeal.

"We knew they'd be jacked up," said Keith Bogans, who muddled through another game (he made one of six shooting, two points). "They had their intensity going. Intensity-wise and energy level, we just were not there."

That showed on the boards. Vandy, which ranked 11th in rebound margin (minus-6.8) in SEC play, enjoyed a 20-13 first-half edge on the boards and was even (35-35) for the game. The rebounding and greater energy, plus Plavich's 6-for-7 three-point shooting, gave Vandy control.

Vandy had lost 18 straight to UK, equalling the fifth-longest losing streak against the Cats by an SEC team, but the Commodores improved to 16-12 overall and 6-9 in the SEC.

Kentucky, which added a new chapter to its Team Turmoil autobiography, fell to 19-8 overall and 9-6 in the SEC. UK Coach Tubby Smith chose not to play Gerald Fitch and Erik Daniels, the two players he reinstated to the team Monday. The two served one-game suspensions after being cited for using fake identifications in an attempt to enter a Lexington bar.

"It hurt us a lot," freshman Chuck Hayes said. "We've been stressing defense a lot, and rebounding was an urgency. I'm pretty sure they would have brought it to the table. The eight-man rotation was good (against Arkansas on Saturday). But you need the complete package. We were missing it tonight."

UK also played without freshman Adam Chiles, who was left in Lexington to attend to a situation that Smith declined to identify. The Cats lost Marquis Estill midway through the first half when he sustained a scratched right cornea.

With Georgia winning in overtime last night, UK fell out of contention for the Eastern Division's No. 1 seed in next week's SEC Tournament. But the Cats can still claim a No. 2 seed -- and a much-coveted first-round bye -- by beating Florida in Saturday's regular-season finale in Rupp Arena.

Plavich's shooting did not bode well for Kentucky. He had been something of a key indicator for the Commodores this season. In games in which he made three or more three-pointers, Vandy was 11-2. That made the Commodores 4-10 in games in which he failed to make at least three three-pointers.

Plavich did not score until he hit a three-pointer with 11:42 left. He made four more in the next six minutes, and his third and fourth treys of the half gave the Commodores their two 12-point first-half leads.

"I missed the first one, but I could tell I felt good," said Plavich, who had made only nine of 30 shots (five of 22 from three-point range) in the last five games. "It's hard to explain. I felt a lot of energy going through me. I wasn't thinking of shooting. I was just releasing it."

Vandy made eight of 13 three-point shots (and 16 of 28 shots overall) in the half.

"Brendan just gave us tremendous confidence and energy," Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings said.

By halftime, the Commodores had surpassed their point totals in each of their two most recent home games (43 points each against South Carolina and Mississippi State). The 57.1 percent first-half shooting made it hard to believe that Vandy came into the game in a shooting slump (41.8 percent or worse accuracy in the last five games, including a 36.2-percent game at Kentucky two weeks ago).

Freshman Rashaad Carruth (a career-high 22) and Prince (24, his biggest total since getting 31 against North Carolina) did the bulk of UK's scoring.

Behind 46-36 at halftime, Kentucky fell behind by as much as 15 early in the second half. Pressing fueled a UK rally that decreased the deficit to 63-58 with 7:37 left.

One of UK's typical Nashville scenarios from the long winning streak seemed to be in the making: Cats fall behind; Cats rally; a disappointed crowd leaves Memorial Gym.

But not this time. Vandy scored the next eight points, all layups (two on the fast-break and two from the half-court set).

Meanwhile, Prince, a well-established Vandy killer, could not deliver. Visibly tiring in a 40-minute stint, he missed his last five shots (four from three-point range) after the Cats closed to within five. Vandy also intercepted his floating pass over its zone and sped to a fast-break layup down the stretch.

Afterward, Smith blamed the defeat on UK's lack of defense. "You're just not going to win many games giving up 86 points," he said.

That's pretty much what the UK coach told his team.

"He was just, I don't know, he was kind of disgusted with our defensive performance," Hayes said. "We got outhustled."

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