Date story published: Sunday, December 23, 2001
INDIANAPOLIS -- Eating soup with a fork.
Tap dancing on ice.
In leading Kentucky to a 66-52 victory over Indiana yesterday, point guard Cliff Hawkins continued to add to the list of frustrating tasks. When he's able to make perimeter shots and drive to the basket, it's next to impossible to contain Hawkins.
"I don't think anybody can defend him" under those circumstances, said All-America candidate Tayshaun Prince, the UK player most familiar with the fun end of unstoppability.
Indiana (6-4) sure couldn't. For the second straight game, Hawkins scored a career-high point total. His 17 points against Indiana eclipsed the 15 he scored against No. 1 Duke on Tuesday.
Maybe more importantly, Hawkins kept himself and the game under control as Kentucky made amends for the loss to Duke by handling Indiana relatively easily.
"Down the stretch of the Duke game, he carried them," Indiana Coach Mike Davis said of Hawkins. "Today, we had no one who could stay in front of him. We tried to lay off of him. He hit the outside shot."
Then Indiana tried to crowd Hawkins. "He got to the basket any time he wanted to," Davis said.
Hawkins matched his career high of two three-pointers in the game's first 17 minutes. For much of the game, he seemingly penetrated at will around a game but athletically challenged Tom Coverdale and freshman Donald Perry.
When asked about defending a shooter who can penetrate, Hawkins acknowledged the difficulty.
"That's a real tough assignment for somebody," he said. "With me hitting the outside perimeter shot, you've got to get up on me. When you're up on me, I'm going to go around you and either score or find somebody else."
Indiana's pick-your-poison dilemma and Kentucky's strong defense fueled the victory. UK (7-2) took the lead for good with 10:12 left in the first half. Hawkins found Marquis Estill for a layup. A 17-6 run later in the half, in which Hawkins contributed five points and two assists, pushed the Cats out to a 40-25 lead.
Thereafter, Indiana got no closer than eight and trailed by as much as 17.
"This game was big for us," Hawkins said. "Losing a tough game to Duke, coach (Tubby Smith) said the thing that will make our team is how we respond to a loss. I think we responded the right way."
During the 17-6 run, Hawkins collaborated with Prince on the game's highlight play. With Indiana wondering whether he would shoot the jumper or drive to the basket, Hawkins instead threw a lob. Facing Hawkins, Prince caught it in front of the basket and without turning slammed through a reverse dunk. Even the usually tranquil Prince reacted by hopping happily downcourt.
"I knew it was a low pass," Prince said. "That's why I had to reach for it. I just made the best play I could. Plays like that not only juice you up, they flow energy into the whole team."
Hawkins, who had five assists, gave Prince credit for the play.
"I just got it up there in the vicinity (of the basket)," he said, "and he did the rest. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe he did a 360. It was a designed play after a timeout (coming five seconds after a television timeout). He was supposed to catch it and put it in the basket the best way he knew how. I guess that was the best way."
Prince equaled Hawkins' game-high total of 17 points.
Spectacular plays aside, Kentucky's superior athleticism and intelligent use of that advantage made the difference.
Davis, a man known for speaking his mind, conceded that Kentucky was the better team.
"No way we can beat a basketball team like that," the Indiana coach said of UK. "They were so good, so physical and so quick, it took a lot out of us to even defend them. Kentucky made everything look so easy. Our guys were in their (defensive) stance, working hard and they go right by us and shoot layups."
The trigger man, of course, was Hawkins. Smith noted the improved control in Hawkins' game.
"Very few people can contain him when he penetrates under control," the UK coach said. "Last year, he probably would have charged in there."
When Indiana did defend well, Kentucky had the option of giving Hawkins the ball and letting him create a scoring opportunity off penetration.
"That takes a lot of pressure off us," Smith said.
Teammate Rashaad Carruth offered a reason why Hawkins' play improved dramatically this season.
"Well, my boy's got a jumper," the precocious freshman said. "He's pretty much having a breakout season right now."
True enough. Hawkins moved his season total of three-pointers to six, double the number he had last season.
But Hawkins offered another reason.
"I pretty much know how to read how a guy comes at me," he said. "That helps."
As a result, the opposition feels like it's eating soup with a fork.