Date story published: Sunday, December 15, 2002
Kentucky and Michigan State taxed each other's mental and physical resources in Rupp Arena yesterday. Run met counter-run. Strategy smacked into adjustment. Two Top 25 teams played a game that lived up to that billing. And then some.
"It was like March," Michigan State guard Chris Hill said.
Oddly enough, a highly entertaining test of competitive will and execution was decided by serendipity.
Tim Bograkos, a walk-on last season, swished a three-pointer in the final minute that paved the way for No. 21 Michigan State's 71-67 victory.
Bograkos, probably in the game only because Marquis Estill's first-half elbow exiled heralded sophomore Kelvin Torbert to the bench, hadn't attempted a three-point shot this season. In his two seasons with the Spartans, he'd taken only two and made one.
"I could lie to you and say I set that up," Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. "In all honesty, he was the sixth option out of five guys."
Necessity and good fortune made Bograkos a hero.
Keith Bogans' driving basket with 1:22 left put No. 12 Kentucky ahead 67-66, the Cats' first lead since late in the first half.
State called time with 1:11 left to set up a shot. UK plotted a surprise, a zone defense that indeed took away the Spartans' intended shooter, Hill, who had made four of six three-point shots.
"It did exactly what we wanted to do: take it out of some guys' hands," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "They ran a double screen (near the top of the key). We played it perfectly."
Michigan State (5-2) reacted as it had been trained.
"We still struggle to run things and read things on the court," Izzo said. "But thank God we kept moving the ball. We have a theory against zones. Even if we are discombobulated a little bit, we try to move the ball."
With defenders bearing down, Hill passed to Bograkos, standing all by his lonesome in the right corner.
"It was either that or hoist one from 40," Hill said.
Bograkos, a 6-foot-2 sophomore and the son of a former Michigan State player, did not hesitate. Nor did he panic as he heard the Spartans' bench counting down the shot clock's final 10 seconds. He rose and took a shot that featured textbook backspin. It swished through with 49 seconds left.
Bogans acknowledged that he was supposed to cover the area of the court from where Bograkos shot. "I was out of position," the UK senior said. "I just kind of cheated up on Hill a little bit. It was my fault."
But Bograkos, a pugnacious competitor, still had to deliver.
"You know what he is?" Izzo said. "He's a tough, competitive kid. Usually competitors find a way to get things done at crunch time. So probably there's no better compliment to give that kid than when the chips were down and he had to come up with something, he did. Some guys rise and some guys fall. Usually the tough competitive kids rise."
UK (5-2) had a chance to counter. But State's switching defense left the Cats with only a rushed three-pointer by Bogans inside the final 20 seconds. He missed and State clinched it with two Hill free throws.
Bograkos' reaction to his heroics was as modest as his resume. He scoffed at the notion of being the go-to guy State desires.
"I'm sure they won't be calling my number anymore this season," he said.
"Coming here was a dream come true. Then to be in the game just added to it. There's so much history at this place. It's an honor to be on the court. That was enough for me."
Other players could have felt happy with playing in this game. Neither team ever enjoyed a double-digit lead. State jumped on UK early. The Cats rode a Bogans flurry to go ahead. Foul trouble on State's starting big men enabled the Cats to lead by as much as eight points midway through the first half.
Freshman Paul Davis, who scored a career-high 13 points, helped get State even at halftime, 40-40.
State's defense, which limited UK to eight baskets over a 20-minute span in the guts of the game, got the Spartans a six-point lead midway through the second half.
With a crowd of 23,145 roaring its approval, Kentucky finally got even on Estill's backward tip at the three-minute mark. Unfortunately for UK, it got only two more baskets the rest of the game.
"It was a game played at a high level," Smith said. "In a game like that, you're going to have to make plays when the times call for it. We didn't do it and they did."