Date story published: Wednesday, December 11, 2002
NEW ORLEANS -- Tulane Coach Shawn Finney, a former Kentucky assistant, had a question for Keith Bogans with a minute to go in last night's glorified scrimmage.
"You going to miss for me?" Finney asked the UK guard.
Continuing his early-season excellence, Bogans made five of five three-point shots and scored 21 points to lead Kentucky to 76-60 victory over Tulane.
Two factors enhanced the latest in an unbroken string of solid performances for Bogans this season.
* Although he made all his treys in the first half, leaving him one short of a career high, he did not attempt another in the second half.
"At halftime, he said the ball was coming off his fingers perfectly," said teammate Gerald Fitch, who interpreted Bogans' decision to holster his gun in the second half as a sign of poise and leadership. "He could have gone for 40 tonight. He didn't want to. He played in the system."
* Maybe more impressive, Bogans excelled (a career-high six steals, plus five assists, one shy of a career high) despite the lack of a basketball atmosphere. Only 5,216 fans came to the New Orleans Arena (capacity: 17,832). UK gave Tulane fans little reason to cheer, leaving the squeak of sneakers and gentle prodding of coaches to displace the sound of silence.
How quiet was it? You could almost hear the hurricanes being stirred on Bourbon Street as UK strained to maintain the momentum created by last weekend's victory at North Carolina.
"When you've got a student section with two rows, it's kind of hard to get pumped up," forward Chuck Hayes said.
UK Coach Tubby Smith saw the poor atmosphere as no excuse to play poorly. "You have to respect the game," he said. "Respect your opponent by giving your best effort and not allowing external things to affect your play."
Bogans managed exuberance as evidenced by a 17-point first half that propelled UK to a 19-point lead at intermission.
"I've done that in practice a few times," Bogans said of his hot first-half shooting (6-for-9 overall). "My teammates did a good job kicking it out to me, giving me open looks."
Both coaches credited UK's inside tandem of Marquis Estill and Jules Camara, which operated against a starting lineup that featured only one player taller than 6-foot-6, with deflecting defensive attention away from Bogans.
"We were so concerned with Jules inside, we gave Keith too many looks," Finney said.
A shooting binge by Bogans propelled Kentucky to a 45-26 halftime lead. Bogans, who blows hot and cold from three-point range, hit two three-pointers in the final minute to set the halftime score and leave him only one shy of a career high.
Having shot better than 60 percent in the last two games, Kentucky came close enough to continuing that surreal marksmanship. The Cats made 54.7 percent of their shots, bringing their accuracy in the last three games to 59.3 percent (96 of 162). That marked the hottest three-game shooting by a Kentucky team in the three-point era. The previous best was 58.2 percent (121-208) in 1996-97.
Bogans improved his accuracy this season to 57.1 percent overall (40-for-70) and 51.6 percent from three-point range (16 of 31).
"I'm shooting it well so far," he said. "I can't complain. Everything I'm shooting is falling in."
Bogans chose not to elaborate. "I don't want to jinx myself," he said.
Bogans also downplayed his six steals. "I was just in the right place at the right time," he said. "Playing good defense."
The second half resembled a Bourbon Street merrymaker who had enjoyed himself a little too much, as the Cats got a bit too happy and a tad sloppy at times. UK had six assists and nine turnovers in the second half.
The half reached its nadir when Bogans shot an air ball.
But there were no worries for UK: Tulane (3-5) got no closer than 15 points.
This game came as a breather in a difficult stretch for Kentucky. The Cats, now 5-1, face emotional and physical challenges the next three Saturdays. No. 21 Michigan State comes to Rupp Arena this Saturday. UK faces No. 7 Indiana a week from Saturday in Louisville.
The always highly anticipated showdown against Louisville comes seven days later.
Any resemblance between those games and last night's hush-hush affair figures to be purely coincidental.