Date story published: Saturday, March 9, 2002
ATLANTA -- Same old same old terminated Team Turmoil from the Southeastern Conference Tournament last night.
South Carolina took advantage of a familiar litany of Kentucky problems this season: Suspension, benching and dreadful shooting. The combination helped South Carolina to a 70-57 victory, the most lopsided margin the Gamecocks have ever enjoyed against proud Kentucky. The Gamecocks also snapped a 12-game losing streak against UK, the longest active streak against the SEC's dynastic program.
But that's not what hurt. The pain came from a continuation of the puzzling problems of the regular season.
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UK Coach Tubby Smith suspended freshman Adam Chiles for a violation of an unspecified team rule. More crippling, Smith left sophomore Gerald Fitch on the bench.
"We had some differences ... of opinion," Smith said on his post-game show on the UK Radio Network. "We can't tolerate that at this time of year."
Smith told reporters after the game that Fitch will play in the NCAA Tournament.
UK players said they did not learn that Fitch would not play until halftime.
Kentucky could have used him last night.
"Definitely Gerald and Chuck (Hayes) bring heart and determination," Tayshaun Prince said. "Nobody showed any of it but Chuck."
Hayes' double-double -- which included a career-high 13 rebounds -- provided the only bright spot.
The Cats' 1-for-19 three-point shooting dimmed Hayes' contribution to irrelevancy. UK missed 18 of 19 three-point shots. Prince made the only one with 3:56 left in the game.
It was too little, too late as UK fell to 20-9 and faced a bleak -- but perhaps mercifully short -- future in the NCAA Tournament.
"It was embarrassing," UK backup guard J.P. Blevins said. "We didn't represent the University of Kentucky well."
Kentucky knew to be ready to play well. Earlier in the day, the two other tri-champions of the SEC Eastern Division lost. LSU eliminated Georgia and Mississippi State beat Florida.
Kentucky's week of preparation and sharpened focus did not show in the first half. As for much of this season, missed shots and ill-advised decisions typified UK's play.
UK, which trailed 35-27 at halftime, got off to a strong start. Featuring an inside-oriented attack, the Cats scored the game's first seven points. UK did not attempt a three-pointer until freshman Rashaad Carruth put one up with 13:22 left.
South Carolina did not score until Jamel Bradley hit a three-pointer with 16:22 left. The Gamecocks did not get another basket until freshman Carlos Powell banked in a shot at the 13:30 mark.
Kentucky's chances for a quick knockout vanished with 15:41 left.
That's when Prince picked up his second foul and went to the bench. Before he departed, Prince scored only one point in the half.
Without their best player, the Cats floundered. "Fell apart," Smith said. UK made only seven of 27 shots the rest of the half. A mix of airballs and bricks were liberally sprinkled into the non-attack.
After Prince's replacement, Erik Daniels, hit a shot in the lane with 10:23 left, Kentucky did not score again until Hayes' putback with 4:52 left.
Rebounding kept UK in the game.
The Cats outrebounded South Carolina 22-12 in the half and 41-28 for the game.
Prince came out energized in the second half and hit his first basket of the game with 19:25 left. Less than a minute later, Cliff Hawkins made his first shot.
But two three-pointers by sophomore Michael Boynton signaled no miracle Kentucky comeback.
Boynton had made only three three-pointers against SEC teams all season.
So desperate was the large UK fan contingent for a rally that two Bogans free throws produced a rousing cheer of encouragement. The free throws brought the Cats to 43-37 with 14:32 left.
As if determined to lose, Kentucky then went on another scoring drought.
The Cats did not score again until Prince hit a layup with 8:23 left. That reduced the deficit to 53-39.
By then, UK fans were beginning to trickle toward the exits.