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CATS KEEP TIGERS TUMBLING

Date story published: Sunday, February 10, 2002

BATON ROUGE, La. -- In the guts of a 68-56 victory at LSU yesterday, a mini-melodrama played out on the Kentucky bench.

Freshman Chuck Hayes saw Keith Bogans take a contested shot early in the second half. Then Hayes heard UK Coach Tubby Smith's guttural response.

"I heard a grrrrr," Hayes said. "I heard him growling. Then his eyes got big and I saw his footsteps. And I looked up and he pointed at me and said, 'Get him!'

"I said, 'Who?'

"And he said, 'Get him!' "

Details. Details. Hayes, a yes-sir, no-sir type, dutifully reported to the scorer's table.

"When I subbed in, I noticed Keith was already going to the bench," he said, "so I figured I was going in for him."

Bogans, one of UK's two players with double-digit scoring averages, went to the bench with 18:12 left. He did not return.

Just another day at the office for Team Turmoil (aka Kentucky).

Even under-sized and shorthanded LSU, which lost its sixth straight, could not be dispatched cleanly. Even with as benign a home-court atmosphere as exists in the hairy Southeastern Conference (paid attendance of 8,549, but only about half that number seemed in the Dead, er, Deaf Dome), the Cats could not spring into the regular season's final stretch.

"Well, we got the job done," point guard Cliff Hawkins said. "It's a relief win."

Thanks to Tayshaun Prince, as always the calm center to the swirl that is UK basketball this season, the Cats came close to seamless domination.

Prince, who led UK with 18 points and had a career-high six blocks, hit his first five shots (four from three-point range) to shoot Kentucky to a 28-16 lead. The margin grew to as much as 40-22 late in the first half.

"He set the tone for us," Gerald Fitch said. "He's been doing it all year and he did it again. That's Tayshaun. That's his game: Getting us going. He started us off good. We kind of followed up."

That LSU outplayed the Cats in the half's final few possessions to get within 42-28 at intermission displeased Smith. His irritation boiled over to Bogans' benching early in the second half. As Bogans took a seat near freshman Rashaad Carruth, who never left his seat, LSU closed within 51-41 with 14:06 left.

Unlike the overtime loss at Tennessee on Wednesday, Kentucky got an inbounds pass to a spot where Prince could score. He took Erik Daniels' inbounds pass at the basket and laid the ball in.

"We finally executed it the way it's supposed to be executed," Smith groused.

That began a 10-0 run that put LSU away. But the Cats did not fulfill their desire for -- cliche alert --a killer instinct.

"We didn't allow them to get all the way back," reserve J.P. Blevins said. "It could have been better. But it could have been worse, too. We really didn't have the killer instinct in some ways, but we had enough guts to keep that lead up there."

In the first half, the Cats were a walking, talking, passing, shooting textbook on offensive basketball. Thirteen assists (eight by Hawkins) and only two turnovers testified to the precision.

"In the first 12 minutes, I thought Kentucky just scored as they wished," LSU Coach John Brady said.

UK, which improved to 16-6 overall and 6-4 in the SEC, shot LSU out of its zone. That forced the Tigers, who played without injured forward Collis Temple III, to play man-to-man defense.

"When they were whipping that thing in the zone, sooner or later, they whip it around enough, somebody's going to be open," LSU forward Ronald Dupree said of UK's crisp start. Prince got it started, "Then it just flowed down through the team."

LSU, 12-11 overall and 2-8 in the SEC, got back in the game early in the second half. Two familiar UK bugaboos -- turnovers and not reacting well to physical play -- helped fuel the rally.

Visibly more aggressive, LSU closed within 44-35 faster than you can say Jenis Grindstaff (the 17:40 mark).

"They got physical, pretty physical and bumped us off screens and really doubled inside a lot harder," said Smith, who summed up the turn of events as LSU turning up "the heat and us not responding and turning up our heat at the same time."

Bogans drew Smith's ire by having his second-half inbounds pass tipped away, which led to an LSU three-pointer. Less than two minutes later, Bogans took a contested shot in transition, then fouled going over the back on the rebound. Then Bogans took a seat.

"Coach was upset for the reason that at halftime he said how important it was that we get good wide-open shots," Prince said, "because LSU was going to come out and play very aggressive defense."

Ultimately, Kentucky was too good not to beat LSU. Not that the Cats took a lot of satisfaction in that.

"It's a step in the right direction," Blevins said. "By no means does anybody feel like, 'Oh, we've arrived. We're playing awesome right now.'

"It's one step in the right direction. Now we'll try to take a second step on Wednesday."

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