Date story published: Friday, January 3, 2003
Difficult practice. Easy game.
Kentucky credited cause and effect for the thoroughness of last night's 94-63 victory over outmanned Alcorn State.
Recent defensive lapses led UK Coach Tubby Smith to use the lash in Wednesday's practice. After the Cats smothered Alcorn State with nearly tipoff-to-final buzzer intensity, he spoke in dispassionate terms about seeking improvement.
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"Challenging every pass, getting up in ballhandlers," Smith said. "We'd kind of gotten away from that. We went back to basic fundamentals of guarding the ball. Active hands. Getting the feet in the right position. Closing out the right way."
Alcorn State made 34.4 percent of its shots, a season low for a UK opponent. The Braves' 28 turnovers were a season high for a Kentucky opponent. Their six assists equaled a season-low for a UK opponent. And completing a night of extremes, UK's 11 blocks matched the most by the Cats since Smith's first season as coach.
The players credited more than attention to basic fundamentals in practice. They cited old-fashioned sweat and angry orders from Smith, who apparently exchanged his customary Father Flanagan persona for a Captain Bligh model.
"It was sprints full speed right off the bat," said forward Chuck Hayes, who led UK with 15 points.
By practice's end, some two-plus hours later, "No one could talk," Hayes said. "Or walk."
When told a teammate had said Smith laid down the law, Hayes told reporters, "That's a good one. Write that down. He definitely laid down the law."
A video review of Monday's victory over Tennessee State preceded practice. The video and practice sessions were long enough and tough enough for Smith to cancel a scheduled second practice in Rupp Arena on Wednesday afternoon.
In speaking to reporters Wednesday, Smith lamented UK's inability to stop three-point attempts or cut off drives to the basket. UK did both against Alcorn State, holding the Braves to 5-for-14 shooting from beyond the arc and a handful of layups. Alcorn State (2-10) had two 35-second violations and once lost the ball on a five-second count.
"We watched film and he was pretty mad during that," Josh Carrier said of Smith. "We knew he'd be hard on us, but not that hard. I sure hope his practices don't get much harder. But I guess whatever he throws at us, we can take it."
Kentucky, which had 12 layups and seven dunks, probably could have won with little defensive upgrade. One first-half sequence suggested that. Antwain Barbour dribbled downcourt in transition. When no defender picked him up, Barbour didn't argue. Looking like he was part of a pre-game layup line, he proceeded to the basket and banked in his shot.
UK scored the first 10 points and maintained a double-digit lead for all but 30 seconds of the final 36:20.
Perhaps out of respect to Alcorn State's renowned coach, Davey Whitney, Smith substituted liberally. Eleven Cats played in the first 10 minutes. Every player but walk-on Matt Heissenbuttel scored.
Four different UK players scored inside the first two minutes. The Cats made their first five shots to begin a 53.1-percent shooting half.
Smith began substituting when Carrier replaced Keith Bogans at the 17:27 mark. Kentucky led 10-2.
A Cliff Hawkins three-pointer expanded the lead to 21-7.
"I thought our guards got a little intimidated and the Wildcats got off to a fast start," Whitney said. "And we couldn't recover."
Barbour's unmolested driving layup made it 27-12.
Alcorn State, which did not make baskets on back-to-back possessions in the first half, reduced UK's lead to 30-20.
Smith called time with 7:43. Alcorn State did not score again for almost three minutes.
Kentucky turnovers -- four in a four-minute stretch -- kept the score close. The Braves were within 34-25 with 1:48 left in the half.
Then Carrier hit back-to-back three-pointers to propel UK to a 44-28 halftime lead.
The Cats (8-3) did not relax. Alcorn State had only two baskets and got off only nine shots in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
When asked about a now fully healthy roster of players getting comfortable with each other, Smith gave a telling answer.
"I don't want them comfortable," he said. "I want them ready to play. I don't care about comfort."