Date story published: Sunday, January 6, 2002
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Sophomore point guard Cliff Hawkins epitomized No. 6 Kentucky's roller-coaster performance in yesterday's 74-69 overtime defeat at Mississippi State.
By halftime, Hawkins had eclipsed his career high for assists with nine. He fueled UK's rocket start by stealing the ball from State point guard Derrick Zimmerman on the Bulldogs' first two possessions. That led to back-to-back fast-break layups for UK.
But four turnovers after halftime led Hawkins to tie a career-high of six for the third time this season. He also had six turnovers against Virginia Military Institute and Louisville. After 12 games, Hawkins has 36 turnovers (an average of 3.0). Last season's point guard, Saul Smith, had 62 turnovers in 34 games (1.8 per game).
UK Coach Tubby Smith cited "careless, careless turnovers that cost us the game." He acknowledged Hawkins' first season as a starter as a factor. "He gets going a little too fast," the UK coach said.
Hawkins rejected the impact of this being his first road game as a starter. "I'm comfortable with the way I can play and what I can do," he said. "If you're scared or think you can't do the job, you shouldn't be out there."
Uptight, out of sight
State Coach Rick Stansbury blamed nerves for his team's horrid start. The Bulldogs trailed 9-0 and 21-2 in the first nine minutes.
"It was 10-0 before I could turn around and find somebody to get in the game," he said. "We spotted them 10 right off the bat."
Mississippi State, unranked since the Final Four season of 1996, was not relaxed in the big-game atmosphere. "We played uptight," Stansbury said. "Basically took ourselves plum out of the basketball game."
Zimmerman had difficulty sleeping the night before the game, waking at 11:30 and again 90 minutes later. "I wanted to win so bad," he said. "That's why I pressed so hard to make things happen that weren't there."
When the deficit grew to 30-10, State nearly conceded. "It almost got to the point where we were playing (only) for pride," Marckell Patterson said.
Instead, State rallied for its first victory over UK since the 1996 Southeastern Conference tournament, and its first victory over such a highly ranked opponent since beating No. 3 UConn in the 1996 NCAA Tournament in Rupp Arena.
Smith acknowledged the costliness of his technical foul. It came as he protested a walking call on Marquis Estill (the UK coach thought Estill was pushed) with the Cats leading 50-39. State made both technical free throws, got two more free throws out of the ensuing possession and then converted a strip of freshman Adam Chiles for a dunk.
So State scored six points without UK crossing mid-court. Suddenly, the game was on.
"Momentum shifted," Smith said of his technical, "even though I didn't think it was deserved at all."
The UK camp hinted at a day-long problem with the referees. "I thought we had Mario in foul trouble," Smith said, referring to State hero Mario Austin, who picked up two fouls inside the first four minutes but only one thereafter.
The king lives
"Everybody in the league is going to have to go through Kentucky," Stansbury said. "If you're going to win the SEC, it's the way it's always been. You have to go through Kentucky. We took a step toward that."
Smith cited fatigue as a factor in All-America candidate Tayshaun Prince scoring one basket in the final 25 minutes.
"Tayshaun logged a lot of minutes (42)," the UK coach said. "Probably too many. You could see it was taking a toll. But he's a guy we have to have in the game. He's our go-to guy."
Keith Bogans' seven points marked the fifth time this season he's failed to score in double digits. That happened only three times all of last season, and he's more than halfway to the nine such games of his freshman season. ... Marquis Estill blocked a career-high six shots while scoring 11 points and grabbing six rebounds. Foul trouble trying to defend Austin limited Estill to 19 minutes. ... UK's 10 blocks were one shy of the season-high of 11 against Duke.