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CATS TUNE UP FOR RIVALRIES WITH BLOWOUT

Date story published: Thursday, December 6, 2001

A passionate revival and a splashy debut helped Kentucky to a 99-57 victory over outmanned Virginia Military Institute last night.

Backup center Marvin Stone, who played eight forgettable minutes in his last game, led UK's huge advantage inside. He had 13 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks.

"Sometimes things don't go the way you want," Stone said. "After a (poor) game, you have to put it out of your mind and go to the next game."

Freshman Rashaad Carruth made his belated debut one to remember. After missing his three first-half shots, he hit three straight in a 90-second span of the second half. Those rat-a-tat-tat baskets confirmed Carruth's reputation as a pure shooter. They also helped elevate UK's already good shooting night to a season-high 55.7-percent accuracy.

Although Kentucky never trailed in its most dominating performance so far this season, Coach Tubby Smith remained mindful that tougher competition lies ahead. The Cats play perennial power North Carolina on Saturday, then face Indiana, No. 1 Duke and arch-rival Louisville before the month expires.

Smith lamented UK's 22 turnovers. Sophomore point guard Cliff Hawkins, who started for the first time, had a career-high six turnovers. "Maybe I took VMI too lightly," Hawkins said.

"He just made some careless mistakes," Smith said. "Careless mistakes we just can't afford."

Even though it took 32 shots, VMI's 11 three-point baskets also left a sour taste.

"This time of year, nothing is easy," Smith said of the season-long process to develop a team. "It's tough on the players. We won by a lot. But they've got to understand they can play a lot better. They have to play a lot better."

UK (4-1) got a boost from Stone in the first half. He scored 12 of his 13 points before halftime. Most notably, the big man from Huntsville, Ala., attacked the basket, once going through two defenders for a score.

"I've been working in practice on being more aggressive," he said. "I think it paid off. With North Carolina coming in, they've got big guys who are really strong. Our big guys are going to have to step up and play to give us a chance."

Stone acknowledged that starting center Marquis Estill's big game against Kent State last week (19 points, six rebounds) helped stoke his competitive fire.

"If I want minutes, I've got to play harder," he said. "If want minutes, I have to step up my game."

With a soft, self-conscious smile, Stone conceded that VMI's Lilliputian front line helped him step up. "They were very physical, but they weren't as big and tough," he said of the Keydets, who lost the rebounding battle 50-28.

Smith noted Stone's seven rebounds, two blocks and post defense. "When you do those things," the UK coach said, "good things happen. We've been working hard to get him to attack the basket, to be that tough guy we need. I think he understands that's how he's going to get minutes."

Carruth sparked the crowd, if not a UK team already on cruise control, in the second half. He swished a three-pointer from the top of the key. On the next possession, he passed up an open three-pointer from the corner and dribbled to where he could hit a pull-up 10-footer along the baseline.

"Because some of the recruiting analysts say I can't dribble," Carruth said of bypassing the open three-point shot. "I hope they were there to see that. It let them know I can shoot off the dribble."

On the next trip downcourt, Carruth cut to an open spot on the right side, took a pass and hit another shot to complete a seven-point half.

"I had good shot selection. I just had the short end of the stick," Carruth said of his three first-half misses. "I just kept shooting."

Asked what went through his mind when he kept missing, Carruth said, "I just think the next time it's going in."

Smith had no complaint with Carruth's misses in the first half: a pull-up leaner from the right side, another pull-up shot and a fast-break three-pointer.

"They were good shots," the UK coach said. "As long as they are good shots, I don't mind the shots. When they're bad shots, I get concerned."

Bad shots, Smith said, are contested shots.

Carruth took good shots against VMI, and his baskets had a contagious effect on Kentucky's other shooters, Smith said.

If Carruth's confidence is similarly catchy, UK opponents must beware.

"This was a confidence builder going into the North Carolina game," said Carruth, who apparently did not need much of a boost. "I was looking forward to a good game. I never look to have a bad game. I think throughout this year, I'll never have a bad game because of my mentality and toughness."

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