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HEADS OVER HEELS

Date story published: Sunday, December 8, 2002

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- A player and coach working together can create a thing of beauty. For example, an unwitting halftime collaboration by forward Chuck Hayes and Coach Tubby Smith produced Kentucky's 98-81 victory at No. 12 North Carolina yesterday.

As Smith conferred with his staff outside the locker room about how to toughen UK's rebounding resolve, Hayes directed advice about the offense to point guard Gerald Fitch.

"I told Gerald, the ball's in your hands 95 percent of the time," Hayes said. "Forget the plays the coach calls. Call the plays that will get Marquis in the game."

UK center Marquis Estill's 20 second-half points proved the wisdom of Hayes' advice. Taking advantage of North Carolina freshman big man Sean May's inexperience and foul trouble, Estill made nine of 12 shots.

"I know he really wants to do well this year, it's his last year," Hayes said of Estill, a senior. "I noticed in the first half he was kind of frustrated. Before the coaches came in, I just said, 'Get my man the ball on the block.' "

Estill's work inside combined with Fitch's perimeter sharpshooting to account for all the points in a decisive 18-2 run to start the second half. That broke open a struggle between wise veterans (UK) and athletic whiz kids (Carolina).

It also propelled Kentucky to 60.3-percent shooting accuracy for a second straight game, a feat accomplished only once by UK in the three-point era (in the 1996-97 season).

"Guys are understanding where the shots are going to come from," Smith said of UK's recent swish-fest. "Taking better shots is primarily what's happening."

UK's 62.7-percent shooting against High Point Tuesday could be explained by the caliber of the competition. But North Carolina came into yesterday touting a much-improved defense. For instance, opponents had made only 37.6 percent of their shots and scored an average of 64.3 points.

"Our defense was non-existent," North Carolina Coach Matt Doherty said. "We've been happy about our defense. There's been a lot of talk about our defense. But we didn't play defense in this game."

Foul trouble helped Kentucky's offensive efficiency. May picked up his third foul with 19:27 left in the second half and played defensively (in the bad sense of the term) the rest of the way.

"That was our main plan," Jules Camara said. "Get the ball to Queese and get (the Tar Heels) in foul trouble. We knew they were kind of thin (inside)."

Estill scored eight of UK's first 10 points in the second half, all in the paint. That erased Carolina's 43-40 halftime lead and set UK on course.

"When he picked up his third foul, he backed off a little bit," Estill said of May. "He's big. But I think I'm a lot stronger and quicker. (And) it seemed like he didn't get off the floor well. When I jumped up, he didn't jump up with me."

May, a highly regarded freshman, had a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds). But he conceded he was too small (6-foot-8, 272 pounds) to deal with Estill.

"Once they got it inside, it was difficult for me and Jawad (Williams, a thin forward)," May said. "We're not the two quickest guys in the country."

Estill took only one shot in his scoreless first half. Yet UK thrived with perimeter shooting (five of eight from three-point range).

The combination of perimeter marksmanship and inside accuracy was Kentucky's best example of balanced scoring this season, Smith said. Hard to believe only a week ago, UK's shooting ability came under question.

"In our first game against Arizona State, we got caught believing we're going to make a lot of jump shots," the UK coach said. "Two-for-22 (three-point shooting against Virginia) got our attention. It was just a matter of patience and getting more balance in the offense."

Smith's halftime attention to rebounding also paid dividends. The Cats were outrebounded 21-12 in the first half, 11-3 on the offensive boards. In the second half, UK outrebounded Carolina 18-14 and limited the Tar Heels to three offensive rebounds.

"They were just manhandling us on the boards and in other places," Smith said of the first half.

Estill did the manhandling in the second half.

And, if needed, Hayes sounded ready to offer the same go-to-Marquis advice.

"It's unreal," Hayes said of Estill's importance to UK. "We can go real far when Marquis puts in the work he does."

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