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VIRGINIA ZONES IN ON CATS

Date story published: Wednesday, November 27, 2002

LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Despite its much-promoted "unparalleled tradition," its 100th-season celebration and its No. 15 ranking, Kentucky had no shot to beat unranked Virginia yesterday.

No perimeter shot, that is.

Deciding it couldn't guard Kentucky man to man, Virginia turned retreat into advantage when it switched to a zone defense early. Thirty-five game minutes later, Kentucky shot mostly blanks with its long-range guns and lost 75-61 in the Maui Invitational semifinals.

UK, its 1-1 record perfectly reflecting its early-season inconsistency, made only two of 22 three-point shots. True, the tournament experimented with a three-point line nine inches farther from the basket. But no Cat -- coach or player -- leaned on that for solace.

"Well, we had some good looks," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "I think we settled for the outside shot. You miss a couple. All of a sudden, you get a little tighter. The basket gets smaller."

Distant memory did not tell Smith that. The Cats made only one of 19 three-point shots against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last March.

Virginia Coach Pete Gillen jokingly apologized for denying the Maui Invitational a marquee matchup -- Kentucky vs. Indiana -- in tonight's finals.

"I hope we didn't mess up the tournament by winning," he said. "No one wants to see Virginia in the finals."

Gillen declined to cite the switch to zone as a master-stroke of coaching. His explanation: Virginia switched to zone because it couldn't defend UK center Marquis Estill. The Cavaliers' zone paid special attention to UK shooters Keith Bogans and Josh Carrier, then waited for UK to shoot them out of the zone.

That never happened. Kentucky missed its first 17 three-point shots. Bogans finally connected with 8:18 left. Freshman Brandon Stockton ignited hopeful cheers from the many UK fans in attendance when he made another trey with 7:06 left. But that was it. Virginia switched to a 3-2 zone after the game's first television timeout (15:44 left in the first half) and never changed again.

"I'm not a zone coach," Gillen said. "But you have to put your ego in your pocket and do something that can help you win. I don't know enough about the zone, honestly. But we just kept it basic."

Estill scored 10 of Kentucky's first 16 points. He scored only two thereafter, mostly because four ill-advised fouls limited him to 13 minutes.

Without a consistent scoring threat inside, the Cats died on three-point shooting.

"The rims never get smaller to me," said Bogans, who made only one of six three-point shots (four of 13 overall). "It just seemed like our balls just wouldn't fall for us."

Antwain Barbour -- zero for six from three-point range -- kept his explanation simple. "We didn't make shots; that's all," he said. "It wasn't really that frustrating. It was frustrating when they were getting all the rebounds."

The game's beginning suggested UK would follow Monday's 50.9-percent blitz of Arizona State with another hot-shooting victory. Led by Estill, the Cats made eight of their first 12 shots and bolted to an 18-9 lead.

Then Estill departed with his second foul at the 13:37 mark. Coincidentally or not, that was early in a nine-minute span that saw the Cats miss 14 straight shots.

To combat the zone, Smith sent in four subs (Stockton, Bernard Cote', Kelenna Azubuike and Josh Carrier) with Jules Camara, who had come in for Estill.

Only when the starters -- minus Estill -- returned did UK score again. With 6:19 left, Bogans dunked on the fast break (the Cats' first points since Barbour's fast-break layup at the 14:59 mark).

If frustrated by its poor shooting, Kentucky did not quit. After falling behind by eight points with 5:56 left, UK closed to 61-59 on Gerald Fitch's 15-footer.

Cruel irony killed the Cats. Virginia's Devin Smith, a 45.8-percent three-point shooter in junior college last season, hit three treys down the stretch. The third was the killer. With the shot clock down to four seconds, he took an inbounds pass, pump-faked Bogans from his view and launched a three that bounced high off the rim and dropped in.

"Luck of the Irish," Gillen called it.

For UK, the prospect of more zone defenses loomed.

"I'm pretty sure other teams are going to try the same game plan," Fitch said. "We have to fix that."

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